October 19, 2023

Two Months, Thirteen Days, and an Entire Lifetime

Martín Yafé Global Connections Director

Two months ago, I made a very meaningful professional decision. After six wonderful years serving on the leadership of a historical JCC in NYC (the Y of Washington Heights & Inwood), I decided to join the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ as Director of Global Connections. It was a lifetime dedicated to global Jewish peoplehood and to the most important Jewish enterprise in three millennia, the State of Israel, that led me to accept this opportunity.  

Even before I started, people who knew I was joining Federation would ask me, “Will you be overseeing the rishonim?” or “Will you be working with shlichot? Wow, you are so lucky; they are rockstars!” I found out that we even had a very active committee called Mishlachat, entirely dedicated to taking care of, and maximizing the exposure of, our rishonim and shlichim. I was certainly not surprised by the fact that people had positive associations with Israel or Federation… but the extent of it truly did surprise me. 

Until I met them. 

In what is one of the largest mishlachot (cohort of emissaries) in North America, our community is blessed with nine incredible men and women who left their lives back in Israel to spend significant time with our community. Seven of them (pre-army rishonim) are here for a year and work across multiple schools, synagogues, JCCs, and youth groups throughout our catchment area; and our two shlichot are here for two to three years, working with the leaders of our community on Israel-related issues, teaching, creating experiential opportunities, and supervising the rishonim. All of them embark on this journey inspired by a mission to bring Israel to our community, strengthen the bond between our community and Israel, and create what we call “living bridges” people-to-people programs and connections between Israelis and members of our own community. The passion with which they do this is inspiring. I instantly understood what the excitement was all about.  

By early October, the new rishonim were getting to know their institutions and our shlichot were working in concert with the rest of the team to implement the vision for our new Global Connections department. It was all coming together beautifully. But destiny, as we know, has a mind of its own. 

During the ill-fated Shabbat of October 7, our worlds turned upside down. For me and so many others, that day marked the sudden transition from being recipients of the knowledge, care, and support of our mishlachat, to coalescing around them to offer them all the love, support, family, and also breathing space we could. 

In a matter of hours, the Global Connections professional team, the Mishlachat Committee, and the incredible host families who voluntarily host rishonim for a semester were already planning ways to support them. One of the shlichot, 9-months pregnant, with no sleep, and navigating her own shock, rushed to meet with a Shabbat-observant rishon before morning services just to make sure hers was the first face he saw when he heard what happened. Community members at large and dozens of past host families started sending packages with food and offering their homes as meeting points. I personally spent most of Sunday, the second day of the war, with our mishlachat, mixed with feelings of impotence and relentlessness. While their eyes alternated between staring at the ceiling and checking their phones for news of friends and relatives, we tried to give them reassurance. 

It is now clear that Israel’s military operation in Gaza will not be short, which means neither will our responsibility to provide extra support and care to our mishlachat. My appeal to all of you is to join us in this collective effort. If you would like to sponsor a meal or an activity that will distract our rishonim, if you have a large space to accommodate the group for their Thursday evening activities, if you would like to sponsor a meal for our shlichot and their families, or, even better, if you would like to host one of our rishonim, please click here. You will find all the ways in which you can do so and the right people to contact. 

My friends, two months ago I made a very meaningful professional decision. Thirteen days ago, while our world was turning upside down, I looked up to the heavens in fury for what had just happened, but in full realization that I was where I needed to be. With the anger and perplexity of the situation, I also felt emboldened by the knowledge that I had not just the possibility, but the responsibility of protecting and caring for a living piece of Israel amongst our community. A responsibility we all share.  

Od lo avdah tikvateinu. Am Israel Chai.