A year of listening

I would like to begin with an apology.

I apologize for a year of quiet on my end.

A friend recently inquired as to my (relative) quiet over the past year.

As an active writer and passionate informal educator, not expressing my thoughts has been a personal challenge. Yet, it was a challenge that I needed.

I have seen it all; every moment of challenge being faced by my beloved home.

I have cried with you.

I have celebrated with you.

There has not been a passing moment, great or small, that I have missed….

There is a Jewish proverb that says: “I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders.”

For those of us devoted to the field of Israel education and Israel/Diaspora relations, there is nothing “light” about the load we have taken on. The dynamic has come to be one where it seems we are speaking two very different languages; both in the literal and figurative.

Writing, since as long as I can remember, has been my Pandora’s box to endless dreams…

I remember myself staring out of the window of our small Queens apartment. A pen and paper were my ticket to a different future. And so, it would be.

Writing would help me to mourn my beloved father’s tragic death…

Writing about my life in Israel has allowed others the opportunity to learn about this incredible, complex and remarkable place through my eyes. It is an incredible honor but also comes with tremendous responsibility. From simple Facebook posts to longer blog pieces, I have enjoyed the incredible interactions I have had for so long with many people around the world.

During my 1st year of Shlichut, I wanted to take the time to listen.

Sure, there was so much I wanted to say. (Often even times I wanted to shout.) There were many instances in which I was confident my opinion on something was the more educated or experienced one, but it did not matter. If I did not take the time to listen, I would not learn.

Sunday was a moment of shouting for me.

I was shouting in pain.

I shouted in sadness.

Kim Yehezkel and Ziv Hajbi were brutally murdered by a terrorist on Sunday morning. 28-year-old Kim, a mother to a beautiful year- old baby boy, was bound and shot at point blank range. Ziv, a beloved father of 3, was just less than a week shy of his 35th birthday. Four children lost a parent on Sunday in Israel. Those families sit in mourning at this very moment.

Listening over the past year has allowed me to mature in a way I could have never imagined but most importantly, it has helped me to identity the moments where not only I need to speak up; I need my entire community to do so as well.

In my moments of anguish, I found myself seeing image after image of Kim and Ziv; these moments of joy had flooded social media accounts in a time of such pain.

I watched as the campus emissaries within the Jewish Agency delegation, who I have the tremendous merit to lead every day, discussed their sentiments with one another. I watched them beautifully express their thoughts and feel much of what I did; this terror attack had struck us all in such a profound manner.

We are a nation, yet again, in mourning.

If there was ever a moment in recent time when I wanted…no needed my community across the globe to stand in solidarity, it was on Sunday.

I look at the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora as children, all part of the same family, but living in different home.

Our homes are run differently; they must for:

We live in different neighborhoods.

We have different realities.

Our challenges are different.

And cultures are unique.

And yet, we all live by the same values.

Same beliefs.

Perfection is not a perquisite at either home.

But the morals and values that embody Jewish life for millennia are…

If that is the base of what we have in common, even if right now seemingly the only base, let’s start there.


See clearer.


But also speak.

The work of the Jewish Agency Israel Fellows to Hillel is the perfect example of finding a common language, a way to listen, learn and when needed, to speak.

There are nearly 80 young Israelis across North America, and close to a dozen across the globe who are not showing up only to challenge the anti-Israel speaker on campus or beat down a divestment bill: they are there every single day. To connect to each and every student. To bring them closer to Israel and to bring us closer together. Helping to give the experience of who Israelis are and what Israel is every day.

They are impacting the lives of thousands of students each year by building genuine relationships with them. It matter to us all and that is why we are here.

There are days when we need that reciprocated back to us. As Israelis. We need to know that you are also listening and watching. And when a tragedy of this caliber takes place, that you feel just as we do.

Thank you for your patience during my year of reflection.

My shoulders have broadened.

I have learned much from listening.

Now, I am ready to write again.


About the Author
Michelle Rojas-Tal is the Jewish Agency's central Shlicha to Hillel International and Director of the Israel Fellows Program. The Jewish Agency for Israel Fellows program brings nearly 80 young emissaries to campuses across North America and close to a dozen across the globe to serve on college campuses. Michelle and her family are currently on Shlichut and living in the greater D.C. area from Jerusalem. She has devoted her life's work to Israel and the Jewish people.
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