Connecticut's Israel Young Emissaries reflect on their trip home

Every February, the Israel Young Emissaries serving for a year in communities throughout Connecticut and western Massachusetts return to Israel for two weeks. After five months in their host communities, they have become different people, a phenomenon noticed by friends and family in Israel, and by the emissaries themselves.

As the State of Israel prepared to celebrate the 62nd anniversary of its independence, a few emissaries explained to the Ledger how the trip home has affected their perspective and their work.

Sarai Barzel, Greater Hartford

I got to see Israel differently and feel much more Israeli after six months away. My Jewish and Israeli identities got stronger. I come from a traditional background and my father is a cantor in an Orthodox synagogue. Here, I have become broader in a religious sense. In Israel, I don’t think about being Jewish every day; I just live my life. But here I feel that I’m Jewish because I know I am, and I feel more Jewish here. Americans feel more Jewish in Israel. But for me, in Israel, Here, they ask me what kind of Jew I am. I’m having my bat mitzvah on May 19 and my whole family is coming. My father will be the chazzan in a Conservative synagogue for the first time. He taught me how to chant via Skype. Here, Judaism is much more egalitarian, not like in Israel. Here, both men and women can be fully Jewish. I go to synagogue every Shabbat. So now I feel more Jewish and Israeli in both places. A theme of my parsha is that you may know who you are but sometimes you need something to really understand your identity. I knew I was Jewish and Israeli, but I needed to live in the Diaspora to know how meaningful and significant that is for me. Before I came here, I didn’t know how much my sense of identity would change: I’m an Israeli Jew, not a Jewish Israeli.

Karen Brustein, New Haven

The February vacation was great! First of all, it is a point in which you can reflect on your shlichut [outreach]: What have I done so far? What do I still have to do? It is also a relief. I mean, it is great to be an emissary, and with all the great things, not easy at all. Being at home was so simple: I was just Karen, everyone on the kibbutz hugged me and was very glad to see me again. I had barely any responsibility but just enjoyed being there with family and friends. And it was warm! It was really nice to see all my friends and family, the kibbutz, but I felt that something was still waiting for me across the ocean, and not like the first time I arrived. Now I know everyone in the community, I know what I am there for, and everyone knows me. The vacation was good, mostly to remind me of my reasons for being an emissary.

Or Geisinger, Greenwich

The moment I landed at Ben Gurion Airport, I was greeted with open arms by my wonderful mom, my cousin, and my friend. On our way back home, we stopped for a celebratory dinner after five months of ruining our diet (which doesn’t really work for me). So, how did it feel to be home? I felt more at home than ever before! I had two crazy weeks without sleeping, tons of fun with family and friends, and no work. In the beginning, it felt unreal, loving every single moment and not thinking about anything. Then one day, I planned Purim activities for my little brother and it made me miss my second “home,” missing the daily life and the community here in Greenwich. I had a great vacation, I visited a lot of places. Being here in Greenwich, I missed my family and my friends in Israel, but more than that I missed the little things like waking up in the morning with my mom’s special coffee and the cottage cheese for breakfast and the unending sun of Israel, even though I love the winter here in Greenwich. We’ve returned very quickly to our routine here and not just because we are good workers; it is also because we have the pleasure of returning to a very warm and welcoming community.

Naama Kelman, Westport Weston Wilton Norwalk

I talked with my host family every day by Skype. I felt like I had left my family behind even though they are my host family. In both cases, going to Israel and coming back to Westport, I felt like I was returning home. I had fun in Israel with friends, but felt like I still had a place to come back to. I came back to Westport with a lot of motivation to continue in my work and to give it my all for the rest of the year. Going back gives you strength and to see family and friends gives motivation and support. But there was no routine: I would get up, sit on the couch, watch TV, and see friends. You understand how hard you work here and how important your work is. My friends told me that I’d changed but couldn’t say exactly how. I told them about my work and some thought it was strange that I was working in a synagogue, because in Israel, you don’t “work” in a synagogue unless you’re a rabbi. I realized, when I was back home, that I will miss the Connecticut winter. I’ll miss the children, who are always around when I work. I also realized that I’m very independent here: I have a car, a phone, a bank account, and don’t have my parents to tell me what to do.

Or Shahar, Greater Hartford

When I went home, I appreciated more what I have at home and loved Israel even more after being away. It’s very satisfying to return and discover that my connection is even stronger and to tell people about Israel. Not being home for six months, I found that I appreciated my family, friends, and home more, that they are all more meaningful to me. I missed my host families, who I have a very, very strong connection with. I’m with a third host family now, but I always visit with the other two and my parents talk on the phone with them. I missed the routine of my work. It was difficult for me to come back to Hartford because my family is a “mishpacha shakula,” a family who has lost someone in a war, and it’s hard to be away during Yom Hazikaron [Israel memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror] and Yom Ha’atzmaut [Israel Independence Day]. We go to my uncle’s grave and participate in a memorial ceremony and it’s a time when the transition between the two days is very meaningful for me. [Young Emissary] Sarai and I decided to organize a Yom Hazikaron ceremony and a Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration for the community. In this way, I can come to terms with not being in Israel, by bringing here what I feel in Israel.

Hamutal Zimberg, Greenwich

After five months of experiencing such an amazing time as an emissary in Greenwich, my return back home to Israel was filled with excitement. When the plane flew over Tel Aviv I had a feeling that I have never felt before: a strong and unique love for the Land of Israel, love for my family and my friends, love for nature in Israel, for the weather, the conflicts, the culture, the art, and the people – love for all of the things that brought me here to Greenwich as an emissary from the beginning, to share it all. The vacation in Israel was amazing and also made me realize how I feel connected to Greenwich. Not even one day went by when I didn’t think and talk about places and people in the community and that made me realize what an important part Greenwich is having in my life as an emissary and as a person. After two weeks and two days with family and friends in the Holy Land, I arrived back in the community with a new energy. I know that we will have a fun and successful time together for the rest of the year while “building a living bridge” between Israel and Greenwich.

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