Ofer Lichtig used to be Israel’s shaliach to a Jewish federation; now, you might say, he’s the federation’s shaliach to Israel.
Lichtig, who was the Israeli emissary for the Jewish Federation of North Jersey in Wayne, a precursor of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, began his task as UJA-NNJ’s man on the ground in ‘006 and has overseen the distribution of the federation’s donations to various programs.
"I saw [the merger] as an opportunity," he said. "Not every shaliach gets the opportunity to see two parts of the community coming together. It made a lot of sense. It was an artificial division between the two parts of the community."
Ofer Lichtig is UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s man on the ground in Israel.
From the partnership with Nahariya to aiding the citizens of Sderot, Lichtig provides a face for the federation to the organizations it helps. He is working on post-trauma programs for children in Nahariya and Sderot, Jewish identity-building for Israelis, and linking Jewish businesswomen here and in Israel, among other initiatives. And when New Jerseyans travel to Israel he shows them what life in Israel is really like.
"It’s essential to engage the community here with Israel of today and with the things are concerned about today even if it shatters a little bit the image Israel had in the ’60s," Lichtig said. "It’s better to be attached and know what’s going on today in Israel than have a misconception even if it provokes a firestorm every now and then."
After he went back to Israel in ‘005, Lichtig spent a year in the Jewish Agency’s education department before UJA-NNJ approached him. Its leaders were looking to hire a community representative in Israel to monitor the funds the organization sent and make sure they went where they were needed.
"It allows me to keep engaging in the things I value most, which is strengthening the connection between the people of Israel and the Jewish people around the world," he said. "This is our future. The future of the Jewish people depends on the connection, the bond between the people of Israel and the rest of the Jews. It’s important equally for both sides."
Earlier this week Israel released convicted murderer Samir Kuntar and dozens of bodies of Hezbollah terrorists in exchange for the bodies of captured soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Even with the cease-fire with Hamas, rockets continue to fall on Sderot, albeit in smaller numbers. Given these factors, Lichtig said Israelis are feeling "a lot of tension" right now .
"The cease-fire is giving some peace and quiet to the people of Sderot, but it’s obvious Hamas is getting more power," he said. "Iran and the statements by its leaders [are] definitely stressful because everybody understands that we must do something about it. The whole Western world can be affected by this."
Lichtig added, "We also understand that if something is done, even if not by us, we’re the ones going to take the hit from retaliation. You live every day with the knowledge that this might be closer than you expect."
But while the average Israeli sees only the headlines about rockets, captured soldiers, and terrorism, Lichtig sees a different side of Israel.
"What I love most about my job is that I get a chance every day to witness beautiful Israel or beautiful Israelis," he said. "I get the chance every day to see all the NGOs and people who dedicate their lives." (Non-governmental organizations are private groups.)
Lichtig, who was in New Jersey last week for planning meetings with the federation, said he was happy to be back but his home is in Israel. His wife, Michal, and their daughters, Shai and Roni, visited friends at Gerrard Berman Solomon Schechter Day School in Oakland, where Michal Lichtig worked and which their daughters attended. Reminiscing wasn’t on Ofer Lichtig’s agenda, though.
"I now don’t miss New Jersey because I feel like I’m living in both worlds," he said. "I have a constant connection with people here. I don’t get a chance to miss it."