Ethan Behling, the director of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Center for Israel Engagement, has seen shlichim come and go — indeed, he has now welcomed his fourth set of Israel emissaries. Some were male, some female; some were in their early 20s, some a bit older. But they all came with stories, and with the desire to share their own Israel experiences with the local community.
“Their goal is to deepen the connection between Israel and northern New Jersey,” said Behling of the shlichim, who are trained and dispatched by the Jewish Agency. (A note about terminology. A man is a shaliach, and two or more of them are shlichim. A woman is a shlicha, and two or more of them are shlichot.) This year, JFNNJ welcomed two shlichot, 22-year-old Aya Adut and 25-year-old Shoval Magal. (Both emissaries must be of the same gender, because they share an apartment. These shlichot live in Englewood.)
Aya, who lives in Tel Aviv and finished her army service a year ago, “heard about the program from a friend and decided to go for it,” she said. “It will be good for me. I like to speak with people and to teach.” Has anything surprised her here? “Yes, the roads are different,” she said. “It’s harder to drive.” So far, she has visited only Manhattan. “It’s like in the movies,” she observed.
According to Aya, who is working not only with the federation but also with the Wayne Y and the Fair Lawn chapter of Tzofim, the Israeli Scouts, she is planning to organize events, primarily for the holidays. She already has plans for Chanukah. “I’m very excited,” she said. “I hope to bring myself to the community.” She expects those she visits will want to know about her experiences as an Israeli, “my daily routine, for example, and holidays in Israel.”
Shoval, who grew up in a small moshav next to Ben Gurion airport, 20 minutes from Tel Aviv, finished the army a few years ago and has been an Israeli tour guide as well as a staff member of Birthright. What surprised her upon arrival here last month was the weather. “It’s raining and hot,” she said.
She explained that she went through a lot of training with the Jewish Agency in Israel. Her job now, she said, will be “getting to know the communities and what they need and connecting them to Israel in way that suits them.” She will, she said, “bring up subjects and things interesting to them.”
She will not try to tell them what to think about Israel. “People should form their opinion when they see it with their own eyes,” she said. “They should get to know the country and then decide.” What she will do is “try to connect the community to Israel, bring its culture here, and bring some perspectives about what is happening there. They’ll learn from my experience, not formal education.
“I’ll be happy if they come to meet me, even if only for coffee,” she said. She’ll be splitting her time between federation, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, and the Tenafly chapter of Tzofim, the Israeli Scouts.
Mr. Behling said that JFNNJ’s Israel Engagement Center sponsors a variety of local programs and facilitates trips to Israel for adults, teens, and young adults. “We also do theme trips and send delegations to Nahariya,” the federation’s sister city in Israel. The center also coordinates the federation’s Ulpan program and its Israel film festival.
While immersive Israel programs produce a “‘wow’ moment, it’s difficult to replicate here, and it’s not always possible to send everyone there,” Mr. Behling said. “So we bring the young Israelis here to provide a bit of the immersive experience — two vibrant young Israelis talking about their lives.”
The outreach provided in this way is important, he said, “because they’re not academic experts — they haven’t even gone to college yet. They’re storytellers and informal Jewish educators, sharing their experiences with peers and people of all ages throughout the community.
“I’ve kept in touch with former shlichim, and some of them are still in touch with individuals in the community,” he added. “We share them with other organizations, so they meet many people. They come to a community and connect with as many organizations and groups as possible to get the conversations going.”
To learn more about the Israel Engagement Center or arrange for a shaliach to visit your community or organization, email Mr. Behling at firstname.lastname@example.org