Feature Stories

Israel in Stamford: Bi-Cultural Day School & JCC welcome shlichim

STAMFORD – In addition to the Connecticut Jewish communities who opened their hearts and homes to this year’s crop of Israel Young Emissaries in August (see cover story), there are several other shlichim – Israeli envoys – who have arrived in the city of Stamford to bring a little bit of Israel to two Jewish organizations – the Stamford JCC and the Bi-Cultural Day School.

Bi-Cultural Day School
Hemda and Shakked Parhi
Hemda and Shakked Parhi both come from families long used to serving both as educators and as emissaries in Diaspora communities. So it’s no wonder that the Israeli couple chose, and were chosen, by the Jewish Agency For Israel (JAFI) to work as educational envoys at Bi-Cultural Day School in Stamford for the next three or four years.
Both Parhis are professional educators. Hemda is a native of Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel on the Lebanon border. “We joke that we grew up among the Katyusha rockets, as well as the beautiful natural setting,” she says. Her father, a Jewish immigrant from Switzerland, led the family to Zurich as emissaries of B’nei Akiva, the Religious Zionist Movement, when Hemda was a child. After graduating from a B’nei Akiva boarding school near Hadera, she did a year of national service as a teacher in Binyamina, a community near Haifa. While there, she was introduced to Shakked by his mother, a fellow teacher.
Shakked grew up in nearby Pardes Chana. His family was sent as emissaries to Chicago, Ottawa, and Melbourne, and his three sibling, all teachers, have served throughout the world as educational emissaries.
After high school, Shakked entered the Yeshivat Hesder, an Israeli yeshiva program that combines advanced Talmudic studies with military service in the Israel Defense Forces. The couple married and moved to Maalot on the Lebanon border, where Shakked studied at a yeshiva and completed a year and a half of military service. They next moved to Kiryat Arba, near Jerusalem. Shakked continued his yeshiva studies while Hemda earned a degree in graphic design from Michlelet Emunah in Jerusalem.
The Parhis returned to Hemda’s boarding school, where she spent the next eight years teaching graphic design and Torah. Shakked taught at a nearby elementary school, where he was also coordinator of Torah and Judaic studies. He then completed training to become a school principal.
Last year, JAFI called. “They said, ‘We know you’re both teachers and that your families have done shlichuyot [outreach missions],’” Hemda recalls. “We decided that we were finally ready.” The Parhis received offers from Canada and Stamford, and chose the latter. “We felt that there’s a big heart here and people do a lot in the school,” Hemda says.
Yocheved Singer, director of Jewish education at Bi-Cultural, interviewed the couple extensively via Skype. “I was impressed with the Parhis from the start,” she says. “Their warmth, compassion, and intelligence came through every time we spoke.”
At Bi-Cultural, Hemda will teach Hebrew, Torah, and Judaic studies to two fourth-grade classes. Shakked will teach a variety of subjects in grades five, seven and eight.  The two will coordinate the ceremonies, celebrations, and after-school activities that contribute to the “avira Yehudit,” or “Jewish atmosphere” at the school. Three of the four Parhi children, who range in age from nine to one and a half, will be students at the school..
“In the few days we’ve been in Stamford, people have come by all the time to help us,” she says. “It’s already a great feeling here.”

Inbal Fuchs and Hila Leiman
Inbal Fuchs and Hila Leiman will serve at Bi-Cultural Day School for the academic year as part of the Bat Ami National Service, a two-year program of the Jewish Agency For Israel (JAFI). Designed as an alternative to Israeli military service, Bat Ami places young religious women with non-profit organizations throughout Israel for a year of volunteer service. Upon completion of the first year, participants then serve in Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora as assistant educators in kindergartens, schools, and as youth movement workers, in order to enhance Jewish identity and the connection to Israel.
In schools, these educational emissaries help teach Hebrew, Jewish and Israeli studies, and design informal activities that contribute to an Israeli atmosphere. They create celebrations and ceremonies related to Jewish and Israeli holidays. Outside the school, they are involved in the Jewish community’s youth movements and communal events, where they help plan and conduct programs, and enhance youth leadership training.
Bi-Cultural Day School has participated in the Bat Ami program for more than a decade.

Inbal Fuchs

, 18, is a native of Giv’at Shmuel, a city in the central district of Israel. She graduated from high school last year, majoring in chemistry. This year, she performed her first year of national service with One Family Fund, an Israeli organization that helps victims of terror.
Fuchs has worked as a counselor since 2007, first with the B’nei Akiva girls’ youth group in her home town, then with a group of Ethiopian girls through LeOro Nelech, an education center for youth volunteers. After high school, she was a dormitory counselor at the Dolev Uplana boarding school for middle- and high-school-aged girls.
Hila Leiman, 19, grew up in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv. In high school, she majored in Israel studies, Jewish philosophy, and math. For her first year of national service, she worked at the Beit Elazrake Children’s Home in Netanya, a residential community for at-risk children up to age 18. She was responsible for a group of 10 girls, ages 14 and 15.
While in high school, Leiman tutored a boy who had cerebral palsy, and helped manage a summer camp for needy children in Ramat Gan. She was also a counselor at her local B’nei Akiva girls’ youth group chapter.
In addition to their work at Bi-Cultural, the two women will help coordinate communal events with the Stamford JCC community shaliach, and meet with students at Kulanu, the Jewish-education program for teens based at UJF of Greater Stamford. In years past, the Bat Ami emissaries have also worked together with the Israeli Young Emissaries hosted by UJA Federation of Greenwich.

Stamford JCC
Ayellet Azura

Ayellet Azura is the second Community Shaliach to be hosted by the Stamford JCC.
A program of the Jewish Agency For Israel (JAFI), Israeli shlichim (plural for shaliach) aim to strenghten Jewish identity and create a connection between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel. “Shaliach” (“shlicha” for a woman) is the Hebrew word for emissary.
As the JCC’s new shlicha in Stamford, Azura will provide the community with a taste of Israel, by working among institutions and organizations. She will work directly with children, youth, students, and adults to bring Israel alive and impart Jewish heritage and Zionism, and to encourage members of the community to visit Israel. She will also organize a wide range of educational activities based on the Jewish calendar cycle, and represents Israel before the general public.
A native of Hadera, Azura graduated from the Amal Hadera Comprehensive School for the Arts and Sciences in 2007. During high school, she was a counselor with Maccabi Tza’ir, an educational, sporting and non-political youth movement based on Jewish and Zionist values. Now 22, she just completed four years of service in the Israeli Defense Forces as a computer specialist and training development officer. She is an avid volleyball player.
Azura hopes to use her teaching skills in her new position.
“Our JCC’s special niche in the local Jewish community is connections – between the U.S. and Israel, and between American and Israeli Jews,” says JCC CEO Eric Koehler. “While we won’t avoid politics and hard discussions, there is more to Israel than matters of war, peace, and politics. Our intent in bringing Ayellet here as our JCC Community Shaliach is to demonstrate the best in Israeli culture, arts, and sports, and to give a taste of what life is like for Israelis trying to live ordinary lives in a very special place.”
While in Stamford, Azura will provide cultural and educational programming, help organize community-wide events, and serve as an envoy for Israel in the Jewish community and the community at large.
Two areas of special interest to Azura are Jerusalem culture and Jewish holidays. “There are many cultures and religions in Jerusalem, and they connect to one another through art, music, and language,” she says. “Of course, there are constant conflicts, but this is the beauty of Jerusalem: it is so sacred to all religions.”
Azura will also design programming that explores the “Israeli way” of celebrating Jewish holidays. “When we celebrate a holiday in Israel, the whole Jewish community celebrates together,” she says.
“The great thing about having Israeli shlichim in our community is how deep an impact they make on people’s feelings about Israel, especially when they build a meaningful relationship with the shiliach,” says Nancy Schiffman, associate executive director of the Stamford JCC. “Making a connection to a person makes the connection to Israel much more real, much stronger, and much more long-lasting.”

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