Time to say Lehitraot

Three years ago, I arrived in Washington DC straight after college to embark on a special journey with the Jewish Agency for Israel, the journey of Shlichut. I was looking for an opportunity to educate others about Israel, the place I love the most, while experiencing the politically active college campus life in America. The upcoming 2016 elections made it even more appealing for a political nerd such as myself as it seemed to be the most interesting time to live in the nation’s capital. Six packing boxes and two barely-closing suitcases later, I was half a world away from my family and loved ones, excited about what lies ahead.

Fast forward three years. Suddenly, here I am looking back at my time here, realizing it is almost impossible to put down in words so many special moments, challenges, and incredible people. But one thing I can surely say is that this journey exceeded all of my expectations and became a life-changing one. One that gave me a Kivun or in Hebrew a direction, tuning, and a meaning (kavanah).

Direction: “My heart is in the East and I am at the edge of the West” – Rabbi Yehuda Halevi

In Israel, we like to say that the things seen here are not always seen from there, a saying which I can finally relate to. When living here in Washington or if I may “the edge of the West”, I have learned about Israel from the outside. The controversial one which is normally a center for political debates. The Jewish one, where Jews pray “next year in Jerusalem” every holiday. The confusing one, that makes people want to shy away from it, but also the one that people can love so much even without living there. I experienced Israel through the eyes of others, once from the eyes of a Jewish student visiting the Kotel for the first time during their Birthright trip, another time from the eyes of a non-Jewish student who had come to learn about the conflict struggled to understand its complexities. I have seen it from the foreign news on my television screen, and the random people I met on a flight or a metro ride while they were trying to guess the language I was speaking. Although I was so far away from Israel I got to see it from so many perspectives, appreciating and understanding my country like never before.

Tuning: “No one is as deaf as the man who will not listen” – Jewish Proverb

Since Israel was the heart of my work, my daily life here consisted a lot of listening. Listening to students arguments on a hot political debate, listening to their answers during an Israel class I led, listening in on student government meetings as they discussed BDS resolutions, and listening to many speakers during many conferences from the right and from the left.

Listening I learned, is an acquired skill, one we should all practice more often. It is not easy to adjust ourselves to other people’s tunes yet while doing so, we gain the ability to accept different opinions than ours and learn to always look for the voices we haven’t yet heard.

Meaning: “All that you do, do only out of love” – Sifre

Shlichut is a special term in Hebrew, the literal translation is a mission, but the actual explanation is doing something with a great meaning out of deep faith. Throughout my time here, I collected so many meaningful moments: I listened to former Vice President Joe Biden’s speech when Shimon Peres passed away. I attended President’s Trump inauguration AND the Women’s March. I celebrated Israel’s 70th birthday, and voted from Washington in our national elections. Yet it wasn’t the historical events that made this journey so meaningful, but the special connections I formed with my students, colleagues, and fellow Shlichim. Every day here I was part of building a community, and connecting others to Israel, the place I love the most. And that is what gave me a home away from home and made these three years so significant.

On every trip I led to Israel, I used to teach my students the Hebrew word Lehitraot which is not goodbye but rather, see you later. I reminded them that Israel is always awaiting their visit. Now it is my turn to say Lehitraot. My time here as a Shlicha has come to an end, but the experiences I gained, the memories I collected, and the people I met will stay with me forever. Thank you for three unforgettable years.

See you in Israel!

About the Author
Keren is the Jewish Agency Israel Fellow to Hillel at The George Washington University. She served for two years in the Israeli Air Force Intelligence and completed her B.A in government, diplomacy, and strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya. At the IDC, she was part of the Argov Fellows program, IDC’s honors program in leadership and diplomacy. During her time in college, Keren volunteered at Hillel IDC, worked as a debate trainer, and led a project together with the StandWithUs fellowship.
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