Four 18-year-old Israeli high school graduates — three of them from the MetroWest sister city of Ra’anana — have arrived in the community and will spend the next year reaching out to fellow young people in the region.
The four “Rishonim” will work with local institutions under the auspices of the Legow Family Israel Program Center of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ. They arrived in time to be greeted by their predecessors, who were set to return to their hometowns, Michal Kfir to Ra’anana and Amitai Edri and Gal Dafadi to Rishon Letzion.
Seated around a conference table at the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany on Aug. 26, the newly arrived teens told NJ Jewish News why they had opted to defer their military service to teach young American Jews about their lives in Israel.
“Meeting the Jewish community here is a big challenge for me,” said Lior Tamir. “It is a foreign country and the language is different. But it is also my people, the Jewish people.”
Lior will be assigned to the students of the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, the Bohrer- Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County in Randolph, Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael, and Temple B’nai Or in Morristown. He also will be in charge of the Israeli Scouts chapter in Essex County.
Lior said he hopes to study media and communications and “maybe become a video journalist” after serving in the army and graduating from an Israeli university.
Like Lior, Harel Yaakov is a graduate of Mor MetroWest High School in Ra’anana, a pluralistic school supported by the community.
“The relationship between Israel and the American-Jewish community is really important to me,” he told NJJN. “I will show the kids the way I live in Israel. I want to let them know they have a place to be in Israel. If they come over, they can feel at home. I hope the Jewish community here will be like some kind of second home for me.”
Harel’s academic interests lie in physics and computer science, and he enjoys playing jazz and rock saxophone. He will spend time with students at the Golda Och Academy, Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, and Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn. He will also be a co-coordinator for the Israeli Scouts chapter in Tenafly.
‘A second home’
After one week living with a family in Montclair, Noga Gur, from Rishon Letzion, said New Jersey already “felt like home.” Her first days here were spent with introductory visits to some of the institutions she will be part of for the next year — the HAMC, the Kushner schools, Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell, Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, and Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair.
“I am so excited to meet the kids. I have many ideas for activities to run for the students, Noga said.
Some of those ideas came out of her participation in the MetroWest Diller Teen Program, which pairs Israeli and American-Jewish young people in visits to one another’s communities. “I feel like this is my second home,” she said. “I feel so warm and comfortable with the Jewish people here.”
Noga said she hopes to correct some misimpressions American teens may have about her country.
“Sometimes people read things in the newspaper that do not reflect Israel. That’s why we are here. Not to do politics but to be here as their friends and show them what we feel about Israel, and do the living bridge” between Israel and MetroWest.
It is Amalia Hochmann’s second trip to the United States. In 2010 she was a counselor at Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, Calif. “I felt so much connection between the Jewish people in America and the Jewish people in Israel. It is important to know that someone always cares,” she said.
This time she will relate to young people at GOA, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, Temple Sha’arey Shalom in Springfield, as well as the Israeli Scouts chapter in Essex County.
“We know how to be Jewish in Israel, but I expect to learn how to be a Jewish kid in America,” said Amalia. “They go to public schools and meet other kids who are not Jewish.”
She said she is interested in making journalism or public relations her profession.
The four were chosen by a rigorous selection process in Israel by Amir Shacham, director of the UJC MetroWest office in Jerusalem; Dafna Yizrael, the youth shliha at UJC MetroWest; and officials of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
They underwent a training course to prepare for their year in the United States before traveling to the home of a Montclair family for one week.
This week, they will move into four different houses as the guests of individual hosts families until February 2012, then move to a second home until summer.
After school ends in June, the Rishonim will work as counselors at Jewish camps before returning to Israel next August.