Before attending the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference, I was convinced that I fully understood the American Jewish community. I knew that Jews living here care about Israel. But it didn’t occur to me just how much they care.
Seven months into my time as a Shin-Shinit (young Israeli emissary) in Baltimore, I was part of the unprecedented delegation of 120 Jewish Agency emissaries who attended the AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C., from March 24-26. Through the various lectures and sessions, we packed a tremendous amount of learning into a mere few days. For instance, at a training session led by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues, we learned how knowledge of Israel’s Arab society can enhance Israel education programming in our Diaspora communities.
Yet the most important lesson didn’t come in any session, class, or lecture. By witnessing the enormous crowd of 18,000 conference attendees, I realized that Jews in America care deeply about Israel and more importantly, that their support cannot be taken for granted. They don’t live in Israel or may not even know any Israelis. But they care. Not only do they care, but their support for Israel is active. They donate their money, time, and energy, particularly when it comes to raising awareness among their members of Congress about the issues that are crucial to strengthening the State of Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship.
In my role as a Shin-Shinit, whether I’m working with children or adults, it’s important for me to know that my work matters. And I know that my work matters when people care. Now, I understand better than ever that Jews in Baltimore and across the U.S. care not just about me, but about all Israelis and our country. This is crucial because the way I see it, the work of being a Shaliach (Israeli emissary) actually starts when you go back home to Israel. After immersing yourself in a Jewish community in the Diaspora — as I’ve done for seven months so far — you’re ready to become a Shaliach for the Jewish people.
Israelis tend to think that because the life in America may be “easier” in some ways, the Jews here just say “we care about Israel” and do nothing about it. I can now speak to my fellow Israelis and tell them why that’s simply not true. I can tell them exactly what American Jews do to support Israel, how important the Jewish state is for them, and how much our relationship means to everyone involved.
Meanwhile, as a Shaliach in America, I can help people experience Israel as not just an idea, but as something real and tangible. By interacting with me, members of my community can understand that Israel is not so far away, but prominently within the identity of every Jew. Whether you have a friend who lives in Israel or had just one nice conversation with an Israeli emissary in your community, you can connect with Israel in an accessible and genuine way.
In this way, Shlichut (emissary work) is a two-way street. We bring Diaspora Jews closer to Israel, and they show Israelis unconditional and unwavering support. After the AIPAC conference, I’m more inspired than ever to build strong bridges between us.