To be a good ambassador, you have to be able to stand in, or at least understand, two places at once.
There is the country you represent. And there is the country where you are stationed, where you present your credentials. One leg in each of two worlds, as it were.
Liraz Levi is the de facto ambassador of Israel at the Jewish Federation of Rockland County. His title is shaliach, representative; he is, strictly speaking, not working for the diplomatic corps of the State of Israel, or even the Jewish Agency for Israel, the organization that he officially represents. Strictly speaking, he is working for the federation. His job, though, is to represent Israel and to promote an understanding and appreciation of Israel in the Rockland community.
Mr. Levi grew up knowing there was more than one world. His two sets of grandparents were neighbors who lived across the street from each other in Herziliya, near Tel Aviv. His mother’s family was observant and Yemenite; his father’s was secular and Turkish. He grew in nearby Kfar Saba, a town whose suburban greenery is reminiscent of Rockland’s. He was enrolled in the public Orthodox school system, attending a boys-only high school.
During his service in the Israel Defense Forces, he worked as an analyst with an intelligence unit in Tel Aviv, and headed a human resource department there. After the army, “Like almost every Israeli, I looked for new adventures,” Mr. Levi said.
First he moved to Toronto and worked selling Israeli products in mall kiosks. He returned to Israel and worked for Groupon Israel for a year. Then he took his real post-army trip, to Thailand.
During this time, he learned that the Jewish Agency sent emissaries to Jewish summer camps. He had always been fascinated by the idea of diaspora Jews. “When I was a young boy, I felt really attracted, really curious about American Jewry,” he said. A stint as a soldier accompanying a Birthright group didn’t slake his interest. The prospect of actually spending a summer with American Jews, making a mark, fascinated him.
“They sent me to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, which was amazing. I discovered the Conservative movement. I didn’t know what it meant. I just fell in love with all the ideals of equality and being a community together,” he said.
At Ramah, he spent two summers as a counselor for special needs kids. Back in Israel, he worked for the Conservative movement’s high school program, Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim. There he was one of four counselors “spending five months being moms and dads for a group of high schoolers, getting to know them, letting them know what it is to live in Jerusalem, spending time traveling the country.
“It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.
As shaliach, Mr. Levi still is helping people get to know Israel — only this time he’s the one doing all the traveling. “I’m trying to bring as much Israel as I can, all over the county,” he said. “Especially the modern Israeli culture.”
He hopes to dispel ignorance about Israel. He’s sympathetic about that ignorance and the funny questions it evokes. After all, “I don’t know lots of parts of America.”
Still, he can’t helped be amused. “One person asked me about the city in desert, Beersheva. He asked if camels are the way to transport there,” he said.
There is no question in his mind, though, that he will return to Israel.
“It’s a great experience being here, living the American dream, being in New York,” he said. There are so many opportunities. But it’s a once-a-lifetime thing. I need to come home. Israel is my heart and my home and that’s where I’m coming from and something I miss.”
But when he returns home, he plans to stay in touch.
“I want to study international business and the relationship between Jewish American people and Israelis,” he said. “I want to keep working with Jewish Americans.”