I’m in the beautiful sunny city of Tel Aviv at meetings with one of our main partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel. We’ve met with the Chair, Natan Sharansky; MK Yuli Edelstein, the Speaker of the Knesset; and some fascinating speakers and presenters. Among my favorite discussions were an in-depth but off-the-record (sorry) briefing on the security situation and a discussion on Zionist history and its impact on how Israel orients itself today.

But it was during an encounter with young shlichim (emissaries) who had returned from their service that things came together for me.

Sitting with a young shlicha who had returned from serving on the East Coast, I learned about how she had, upon her return to Israel, sought out a progressive Jewish alternative to what she had left here a year earlier. Like many of our shlichim who serve in GMW, she had been exposed to the rich pluralistic diversity of Jewish life in North America. And she wanted it back home in Israel.

We’ve heard it in GMW too: shlichim come to our synagogues and see women rabbis, men and women sitting together, and women reading from the Torah. And they’re amazed, and inspired, and they want to be part of understanding their heritage and their tradition too. All of a sudden they learn about ownership and pride of belonging in a way that may have been only intellectual before then.

It’s not about becoming Reform or Conservative or Reconstructionist. It’s about learning how to own your Jewish identity, to grapple with it. And the fascinating aspect of this learning process is that it’s a two-way street. Our shlichim come to teach us – but they come away with a huge amount that they themselves have learned.
Being emissaries isn’t just about being “sent.” It’s about coming with us on a path. And discovering the ways together.

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