Diary of a shaliach

Diary of a shaliach

We were fine until the war. That’s not to say we didn’t find living in the States at times trying and confusing — we did — but the loneliness and the distance didn’t seem that vast until Israel was at war and we were here.

Born and bred in Jerusalem and now a Tel Avivian, I came here one year ago as a shaliach, emissary (shlicha in the feminine), for Jewish National Fund, an organization I fell in love with 15 years ago. I packed up my husband and two teenage daughters and we have made our temporary home in Tenafly, where we will live for the duration of my three-year shlichut. I am one of seven JNF shlichim across the country who committed to promoting JNF’s projects and activities as only we, who have lived with it and felt the contributions first-hand, can do.

From left are Hadar, Talia, Liron, and Danny Tzour.

Fifteen years ago, I joined an organization that existed before I was born, before my parents were born, before my grandparents were born, before my country was born.

It is an organization that foresaw, acted, and established a state, an organization that develops and makes every acre bloom as if it were God’s little acre, which it is.

For the past 15 years I worked in a place infused with the Zionist dream. I shared with donors, people on missions, friends, colleagues, professionals, and just regular Israelis all that JNF has done and is doing, and how from purchasing and redeeming land, planting forests and greening the country, developing and cultivating tourist attractions in nature, building reservoirs and rehabilitating streams, and founding new communities, this organization is inseparable, significant, and necessary in shaping the modern State of Israel.

I jumped on the opportunity to come to the States to tell, share, excite, recruit, captivate, and lead diaspora communities to understand and espouse JNF’s ideology, an ideology that forges the bond between us and our homeland: Israel. And I have not been disappointed. The work is rewarding, the people sincere and earnest, the satisfaction level high. But almost on a daily basis I find myself making mental comparisons about the two cultures.

The first year proved interesting. Contrary to what you hear about life in Israel, we found life here expensive. A cappuccino in Israel is $1 or $’; here we have to pay $4. A tomato that sells in Israel for barely ‘ cents is now an investment of at least 50 cents. Now we miss both the taste and the price.

The year unfolded bit by bit, marked by the holidays and seasons.

The holidays, which in Israel last for one day, are two days long here and feel odd, and "Chrisnukah," as I have taken to calling it, the conflict some American Jews have with the Christmas season, is a new phenomenon to us. How wonderful that we have just Chanukah.

We were astonished to find out that non-Jewish children are envious of our b’nei and b’not mitzvah and emulate them by organizing parties for themselves at the age of 13. The highlight was when our daughter was invited to a party for an African-American girl, who called her party "Black Mitzvah."

The sirens — which in Israel signify the start of war, or to the people of Sderot and Kiryat Shemona that another katyusha or kassam rocket is about to hit, and to me personally that my husband Danny, in his military attire, is leaving on a mission — here announce that volunteer fire fighters are on their way to extinguish a fire.

Fall arrived in all its splendor. So many trees, so much foliage, so many fallen leaves, all revealing the density of the natural forest. And I, as a JNF employee, am envious. No one planted, no one watered and tended, no one pruned. And no one maliciously set fire.

In February, with snow on the ground, as we watched our first Super Bowl, our family back home was kicking off the spring, getting ready for the traditional, annual tree plantings throughout the country in celebration of Tu B’Shevat. Winter here is a lot longer.

Israel’s Memorial Day was strange. It was a regular work day here. There were no sirens, no nation collectively remembering, holding its breath, just for a few minutes, teary-eyed and remembering. Everyone we know here went to work that day, even those working at the Israeli agencies, though we took part in an impressive ceremony at the local JCC. We did not visit military cemeteries; we didn’t watch the names of the fallen soldiers scroll down the TV screen on Channel 33. We didn’t even hear our beautiful quiet songs that are broadcast every year in Israel on any and all radio stations. It was just another day.

Independence Day, held the next day, was celebrated by many Israelis here, but participation otherwise is feeble at best. We felt bereft.

But it is in the news that we found the greatest disparity between our culture and the American one.

We quickly discovered that the daily dose of 1′ to 15 news bulletins that Israelis in Israel get from radio stations, TV, newspapers, and just conversations at work and with friends, is so different here.

It is hard to get a handle on the news. What seems trivial to us leads the headlines. A rising death toll in Iraq gets buried here. In Israel we live and breathe tragedies. Ours and others’ are written about, analyzed, discussed, and cried about. An entire nation lives the tragedies in our Israel. It is hard to detach oneself.

The Israel Day Parade was a sight for lonely Israeli eyes. I marched proudly with JNF while my daughters, Hadar and Liron, marched with the Israeli Scouts.

Israeli flags could be seen on every street corner, just like Yom Ha’Atzmaut in Israel. Israeli songs blasted from every corner, and thousands of viewers, mostly religious, were cheering on the marchers. What brings thousands of people and their children to Manhattan to cheer Israel and feel that they are contributing to Israel’s strength and might? It is Israel — the Jewish homeland — that belongs to Jews everywhere. It was an amazing day, exciting and spiritually uplifting, successful in creating a sense of pride and belonging.

That was June. But then July came and with it, war.

When we left Israel we never thought we’d experience a war from here, from the United States.

We sat here, torn apart by worry, caring, longing and wanting to be in Israel during this difficult time.

As in most homes in Israel, our TV and internet were on ‘4/7.

The war escalated, blowing up into unexpected dimensions and taking unpredictable turns. We were mesmerized, tense, crying.

Our girls went to Israel for four weeks. They left as the war started, without any concern or fear. This is what life is like for an Israeli. You adopt an attitude of "life must go on," demonstrating total faith and confidence in our people, our army, and our God.

The girls were there, we were here, and I found that during a war, even here, people unite and come together, supporting and assisting. With eyes red from sleeplessness and crying, I ran between the different communities and donors, recruiting support for JNF’s operations affected by the war. We helped move children from the north to JNF camps in the center of the country, purchased firefighting equipment, extinguished the fires in the forests that were planted with so much love, and continued to build security roads in the north and the south. The warmth and support that the community showered on me touched me and enveloped me with a sense of belonging and safety, for after all, we are one nation, with one country, no matter where we choose to live.

This was the first time in my life I was outside the borders of Israel during a war.

Without a doubt, the hardest moments for me this year were during the war, but they were also the most emotional moments.

I watched the community around me and my colleagues at JNF, who have become my friends during this past year, thinking, building a campaign, and executing it. I watched them running around and recruiting. I watched them supporting Israel, supporting the Israelis. I watched how we, the Israelis, are not alone — we are all b’yachad, together. I watched them, and I was moved. I was thankful. I sang Hatikva with my colleagues at JNF’s yearly staff conference, and I cried. I cried because I hope so much, but mostly because I felt that we hope together. The atmosphere elevated me and enriched me and left me with experiences I will never forget.

With the war over, JNF’s work and mine has only just begun. But I have seen enough here in the States to feel confident that we can do it. Together. For Israel. Forever.

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