Assaf Elroy

‘Maavar’- Israel Fellow Style

The word ‘Maavar’ in Hebrew has two meanings: one is in the literal sense of a move and the other, a more figurative reference to transition.

Being a shaliach, both meanings have purpose. We move ourselves to a new temporary home and we also journey through one of the most powerful transitions one can experience.

The shlichim in our delegation come from many different backgrounds and have very different stories. From the brief but impactful acquaintances I made, I recognized that despite our differences, we all share a common desire to influence and contribute to Israeli society. With these common goals, we flew from Israel and landed all across North America, bringing Israel, through whom each of us are and what we represent, to our campuses. This Maavar is something we all share.

Despite the incredible preparation, nothing can completely prepare you for this tremendous transition. Only after you land, do you reflect on all you have left behind in Israel. From your family, to childhood friends, your irreplaceable ‘brothers’ from the army and close friends from university; the people who know you best , and which we sometimes take for granted. Maavar often involves leaving all that, stepping out of your ‘comfort zone’.

The beginning of my Maavar wasn’t easy. A time when everything lands on you at once. There are so many new things you need to learn: things like, a new work culture, for example , understanding that if you set a meeting for 8:00am and you arrive at 8:00am, then you are late. Or things like learning how to get home from work without getting lost for an hour, or how to drive without honking your horn, and especially, how to go into Walmart for groceries and not to come out with a kayak and no groceries. These are just a few examples of the new routine one must get used to very quickly.

But the real challenge during a Maavar is with yourself. My first challenge came from my desire for things to work out ‘here and now’. As I have already mentioned, the change is big; a new country, culture, environment and job are just some of the changes we have taken upon ourselves as shlichim. Despite all this, I had a very clear picture of how things would look when I arrived. A neat and clean apartment, four training sessions a week, fluent in English and of course having my colleagues and students with whom I work, love and appreciate me – just as things had been in Israel. That is what I was aiming for. But when things didn’t happen as I had imagined, I felt frustrated. A perfect recipe for self-disappointment. I expected that the puzzle I had made in Israel, and that I had just scattered when I left, would reassemble itself fast and perfectly. In a world where everything is instant, who has patience for the process?

My second challenge was dealing with my desire to succeed. Succeed in representing and presenting Israel in a complex and precise manner. Success meant making the most significant events, creating new initiatives, and bringing content that would reach as many people as possible. I think that each and every one of us aspires to create success in our work, perhaps even striving to be the best in our fields. This inner drive moves us forward, bringing us to the fulfillment of tasks and goals. But what ‘they’ have forgotten to tell us is that this chasing of success does not necessarily end, there is no finish line. Perhaps we should go back and ask whether we remember the authentic desire for which we started this work. Do we not sometimes forget it in the pursuit of success? Perhaps most importantly, do we not forget ourselves in this endless pursuit?

Another challenge that I faced, was the inevitable comparison to others. When one looks around oneself, is it inevitable that we compare ourselves to one another? We have all compared ourselves to others at some point. In the world of campus shlichim, you join the Hillel staff on a university or college campus as a Jewish Agency Israel Fellow. Many Hillels are different in size, appearance, and each come with their own unique challenges. Some work with a student audience that is primarily interested in politics, others serve an audience of students who are mostly interested in college football (or in the case of my campus, the tailgate before :). So, if the difference is so great, why do we compare?? We are all social beings and I think that the desire to compare ourselves to others is something very natural. We tend to compare ourselves to those who are closest to us; our friends, our co-workers-and in our case, the other shlichim. The question that needs to be asked is not whether we can avoid the comparison, but rather what are we doing with this comparison. Are we letting it influence us and divert us from our goal? And perhaps no less important, does it not allow us to give words of encouragement to those closest to us?

These questions have followed me in my own work during these past months. The beginning of my Maavar brought with it many challenges, some not simple at all. During this transition, I learned many important lessons that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

First, I learned a bit about patience. It took me five visits to Starbucks to get my order right. It just takes time to understand that Israeli iced coffee is actually an American Frappuccino and not iced-coffee with ice cubes in it. Just like the coffee, I had specific expectations from Israel that led me to paint a certain picture in my mind of how things would look. I learned that some things take time, and that I have to be patient with the process; and especially- with myself. I’m learning to be softer and less judgmental with myself, and I am slowly enjoying the process of achieving my goals, and not just the success of achieving them.

Another thing I learned is the belief in my abilities. Moving from Israel to the US brings you to the point where you must prove your abilities anew, as they say “start from scratch”. It took me time to realize that even though my abilities cannot always be seen, or even if I still have not ‘proved’ myself in my new place, they are still mine. My abilities exist in me. There is no such thing as “start from scratch”. This basic belief also allows me to slow down from the chase after success and the need to prove to others that I am talented. This does not mean that wanting to succeed is something negative, but the desire to succeed simply does not depend on something external. and rather stems from an inner drive to self-realization and to try to bring good to this world, as we see it.

This journey I have chosen to take on is my attempt to bring something good to the world. My hope is that with the abilities and the story I bring, I can contribute to others, and perhaps to myself, too. Some people may call this Maavar – Shlichut.


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