The beginning of the new Jewish year brings for me a new beginning, personally and professionally. As many of you may already know, over the next couple of years I will continue to serve the Greater MetroWest community while stationed here in New Jersey as executive shaliach (emissary) of our Federation in partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel.
My role, however, is not very different from what it has been over the past 15 years. I will continue to build and maintain the living bridges between our overseas partnerships and the Greater MetroWest community. I will continue to bring Israel to New Jersey and New Jersey to Israel in every possible way. I will continue to believe and teach that these connections are essential to the well-being of both sides, and perhaps even to the future of the Jewish people.
I am not doing it by myself. The Greater MetroWest community is blessed to have the best team of lay and professional leaders anywhere in the country, who are committed and dedicated to the Israel and overseas agenda and acknowledge its importance ensuring the Jewish future of our community for generations to come. Our Israel Center platform, which includes all of the committees, departments, and operations of our Federation in this realm of activity, is a wonderful, effective vehicle to move us forward. Our unique structure of nine partnership cities in Israel and the Ukraine allows us to develop intimate living bridges and Jewish peoplehood connections. Our eight-member strong Israeli shlichim delegation, the largest in the U.S., is a powerhouse.
This is all positive and wonderful. But from my personal perspective, I also see a community facing lots of challenges. Some are reflections of national trends and others are unique to us; regardless, they are causing some frustration and dissatisfaction, which in my eyes are mainly being expressed as a sense of weariness or fatigue.
I feel strongly that right now we need an infusion of the energy, vitality, and excitement that defined our summer programs. We have to reenergize ourselves to creatively cope with such concerns as youthful disconnection from Israel. If we make sure our Greater MetroWest tradition and spirit as an innovative, sophisticated, and Zionist community continues, the opportunities will keep coming and take us forward and upward.
The month of August was crazy for me. I closed a chapter, opened a new one. Lots of packing, moving, integrating, absorbing, coping with the bureaucracy of relocation, and more. Yet, during all this craziness I also found the time to take part in four amazing summer experiences that have become my source of inspiration, optimism, and excitement about the future of our community. Here they are according to the August calendar of events. I call them our “Energy Bars.”
1. The REX (Real Estate Executives) Mission. Fifteen young, energetic, and mostly less affiliated potential leaders spent five days in Israel. They had much fun. They saw Israel from various angles. They even had a chance to practice their shooting skills. And yet, the most meaningful moments of the trip for me, and hopefully for them, were those which brought together the longstanding connections of our own community with the passion of their own families: one participant, who remembered his host family from when he attended one of our programs as a teen, knocked on their door, and after 20 years was welcomed like a lost family member. The visits to Yad Vashem, Kibbutz Erez, and Ramat Eliyahu, where the community and specific families are combining forces to help our extended family. These and more are the shining examples of the power of Dor L’Dor (generation to generation) and the basis for healthy Jewish continuity. This is our future in a nutshell.
2. The Cherkassy-Odessa Mission. Fifteen members of our community, mostly first timers, visited with our partnership communities of Odessa and Cherkassy. They saw the tremendous welfare needs in the Jewish community of Ukraine and how our partners, ORT, the Jewish Agency, and JDC, are answering it with our support.
They visited the homes of the elderly, the needy, and Holocaust survivors, bringing them hugs and supplies from their Jewish comrades of New Jersey. However, the most meaningful and magic moments took place on a remote camp site where we spent Shabbat with our longstanding partners in Cherkassy.
We took part in their family retreat, which we have supported for many years, together with five Israeli and New Jersey madrichim (counselors) that we trained and sent there. We all felt there like one big family from the moment we arrived at camp, through the various activities, the B’nai Mitzvah ceremony that we helped to conduct, to the last day of emotional farewell. Many of the participants would like to go back, reconnect with their new family, and get more involved in our community. This is Peoplehood in action.
3. Bonim Be’yachad: Building Together in Union Beach. Ten Israelis from our Negev partnerships of Arad, Erez, Merchavim, and Ofakim joined 12 Americans, 5 from our community. Their task was something that was never done before. It was not about one side answering the needs of the other. Together they helped rebuild a home that was totally destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, but they also collectively built for themselves a united Jewish community.
They spent five intensive days together in Union Beach, where our Federation is taking the lead, in supporting, volunteering, and helping the devastated town to recover. The Bonim Be’yachad group, spiritually led by Rabbi Joel Soffin, proved to the world that when the Jewish values of tikkun olam (repairing the world), arvut hadadit (mutual responsibility), and amiyut yehudit (Jewish Peoplehood), are combined, no one can remain unmoved. This is the new paradigm of Israel-Diaspora relationships.
4. The arrival of the Rishonim. The rishonim (youth emissaries) of Greater MetroWest are five Israeli youngsters, 18 years old, who just finished high school. They have decided to postpone their army service for a year, start their professional life a bit later, and dedicate the next 12 months to the Jewish people as a “year of service.”
Recruited from our seven partnership communities, they were carefully screened, trained, and prepared for their mission in New Jersey. From the minute they landed, their vitality, their leadership, and energy filled the air and energized others. They are going to be involved in 24 synagogues, schools, and agencies across our community, influence hundreds of kids, and be role models for so many. The rishonim are the real living bridge between our global Jewish communities.
So in the spirit of the New Year: May we all identify and taste these or any other “energy bars” and together take our community to new beginnings and new heights.
Shana Tova U’metukah and Gmar Hatima Tova.