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A compass and a four-legged chair

 
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Reflecting on three years as the an emissary

It seems like only yesterday that my family began our three years of shlichut, of emissaries, in northern New Jersey for the Jewish Agency for Israel. By the time you read this, we will be back home.

During the past three years, I have been privileged to meet and collaborate with many wonderful people, work with the best professionals in the Jewish world, and make many good friends.

So what can I say about the last three years for our Jewish country, Israel, and for me? Let me start by relating a short story by Amir Gotfroind, a famous Israeli author. The story is called “The Compass.”

His uncle, he wrote, once brought him a small compass as a gift and taught him how to find north. Wherever he went, Gotfroind’s compass pointed north. One day, his uncle asked, “And if you are standing exactly at the North Pole, where will the needle point?”

The answer, said the uncle, was that “at the North Pole, the needle will go crazy. It will point up, down, to the side, everywhere. The compass is good for showing where the north is from anywhere on earth, except at the North Pole.”

That’s the beauty of Israel – it’s all mixed up and right over here and there all at the same time. That’s the message, the connection of Israel I’ve tried to strengthen, enhance, deepen, and engage with the Jewish community of northern New Jersey. As a shaliach, I’ve tried to bring and present an authentic and clear Israeli-Jewish voice — to always convey the Israeli spirit, the music, the films and culture, the humor, the “tachles” (content), the brotherhood and, yes, a little chutzpah as well.

And a lot has happened in Israel in these past three years. The War in Gaza; Knesset elections; the formation of a new government (sometimes when you come in second you turn out to be the winner); “Start-up Nation” and the expanding Israeli economy; the Gaza flotilla; the ongoing imprisonment of Gilad Shalit and the other Israeli soldiers still MIA; two further Academy Award Best Foreign Picture nominations (three in a row); and now Israel’s own “Arab Spring,” unfolding the Jewish way and triggered not by political repression but by economic factors — beginning with the “Cottage Cheese Revolt” and now presenting as the “Tents Protest.”

It has been a privilege to work and interact with the northern New Jersey community, one that is so committed to strengthening its Jewish identity and character, as well as its relationship with Israel.

I’ve often been asked and wondered how northern New Jersey’s Jewish community relates to Israel. “It’s like a four-legged chair,” I would reply. “You need at least three legs, preferably four, for the chair to stand, for the relationship to thrive.” Leg one is the nostalgic, even romantic relationship with Israel; the second leg is based on advocating for Israel; thirdly, that Israel is viewed as a center for Jewish religion, initiative, and culture; and fourthly, the community’s philanthropic relationship with Israel.

During my shlichut I’ve always tried to blend these views together and engage in a conversation about Israel. It’s that “mixed up and right over there” thing again. Engaging and deepening your relationship with Israel leads to a better understanding of the complexities of the Jewish state.

On a recent Shabbat, we finished the last chapter of the book of B’midbar, the Book of Numbers. Entire congregations stood up and said out loud: “Chazak, chazak v’nit’chazek” — we recognize the strength and the power that we, as a people, gained from past experiences and take with us in order to be even stronger in our future endeavors. This is the great lesson for every transition, when we are finishing one chapter and are about to open a new one.

I have learned and experienced so much that gives me strength for my next chapter. But, at a national level, I am sure we all wish our homeland, Israel, to come out wiser and stronger from its past challenges.

My family and I say “todah” to all the wonderful people we’ve met during our three years here. As the New Year 5772 approaches, we wish you all much health and happiness.

And to such a strong and committed Jewish community, we raise our voices in appreciation for the way you all keep doing amazing things for this community, for Israel, and for the entire Jewish world.

Finally, we wish good luck (b’hatzlachah) to the new community shaliach, Avinoam Segal-Elad, and his family.

 

Stuart Levy
Until last week, Stuart Levy was the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s community shaliach and director of its Center for Israel Engagement.
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