The first thing I did upon hearing about the military operation in Israel was to call Amit, my commander from my reserve duty unit.
Me: Ma hamatzav? (What’s up?) Are we being called in? Are we entering Gaza? Give me details. Should I come? When should I come?
Amit: Calm down. All I have been doing in the last day is speaking to my soldiers who want to know what’s happening and if we are being called in.
Me: Great, but you didn’t answer my question. Are we called in? Should I come? When and where?”
Amit: You do know that our unit is trained to fight in the north. Did you forget the Israeli map during your stay in the U.S.? Gaza is in the south. No, we haven’t been called in, and no, stay where you are. Your support is what we need. Go talk about Israel and tell stories about what we are doing here.
Me: I knew there was a reason I called you. That’s what I needed to hear. Oh, and one more thing, if we do get called in, promise that you’ll call me…
Amit: —— (Amit just hung up on me.)
I am the community shaliach and the director of the Center for Israel Engagement at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, in partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel.
I arrived here from Israel almost a year and half ago, and now my wife, our three children, and I live in Paramus. In Israel, I was a lawyer; I worked for the Israeli government and argued cases on its behalf before the Supreme Court there. But I always wondered what it would be like to see Israel from an entirely different vantage point. That was one of the things that led me to this great adventure of shlichut.
In the past 13 years I also have become part of a second family, my “Milu’im” (reserve duty) family.
We meet at least once a year for a few weeks at a time, we wear the same green uniform and share the same jokes, we go through tough training together, and unfortunately from time to time we fight in the same battles together.
One day you are a respected lawyer, wearing a tie, coming home late from a hard day at work, reading a book to your children, singing them the Shema and kissing them good night, and the next day you are a soldier crawling on the ground aiming at targets hiding in bushes. When you ask yourself why, that’s when you think about your family and the children who are sound asleep at home. Then it suddenly becomes very clear and simple.
Other shlichim have told me there are moments when you really feel you need to be in Israel. I had not as yet experienced those moments. Thanks to Skype and being close to JFK and Newark airports, I see my parents and my siblings often. (It is with a bit of shame that I admit that I speak to and meet with some of my friends more frequently in the United States than in Israel).
Now here I am, serving as a community shaliach, far away from Israel and my family and friends. I listen to Israeli news; check the Internet every minute, and call my friends and family every day to see if everything is okay.
Living in Israel is part of my identity. My parents moved to Israel from the United States in 1973, a few years before I was born. As a family, every year we celebrated the anniversary of their aliyah. I grew up with the feeling that living in Israel was a dream-come-true for my parents and grandparents and, perhaps, without even noticing it, also my own dream-come-true.
So I ask myself a tough question. How can I be away from Israel at a time like this?
This recent challenging time has been eye-opening for me. I suddenly understand what it is to care about Israel and worry about Israel from afar, and have been deeply touched by so many people -adults, teens, children, and seniors – who care so much and reach out to lend their support to Israel. I have learned what it is to be with Israel without being in Israel. That is such an important lesson for someone, like me, who until now has lived his whole life there.
Once the rockets started flying, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey took action, and I was privileged to take part in the effort of reaching out to the community. I have been going around speaking to students in schools and in synagogues throughout the community. I have come out of each and every session with a strong feeling that I now understand the meaning of one mishpachah – one family.
When I mention Israel in these times it is important for me to emphasize that we Israelis are strong and positive. We believe in the cause. Therefore, we should not express feelings of sorrow or pity for Israel. We should, however, continue caring, reaching out, showing solidarity, and supporting Israel in as many ways as possible.
These last two weeks have been a great lesson for me. I am privileged and honored to be part of the northern New Jersey community. At the end of my stay, I will return home strengthened.