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New Shaliach to Detroit

An Interview with Yiftah Leket

Yiftah, Paz and Ella Paz

Yiftah Leket, with his wife Paz and their daughter Ella arrived in Detroit in mid-September as the new community shaliach (emissary) from Israel. They arrive at interesting times, both in Israel and globally with a Jewish community experiencing unchartered territory as a result of the pandemic. On the eve of his departure, JFMD’s Naomi Miller met with Yiftah to get to know this new addition to the Detroit Jewish professional community.

NM: What are 5 things that we should know about Yiftah Leket?

YL: I am the father of Ella who is 18 months old and the life partner of a remarkable woman, Paz, and we all of us as Shlichim, the biggest value we can bring to anywhere, is who we are.

Our big news is that we are expecting a baby girl in January who will immediately join the Detroit community!

I have always loved to try new and different things, explore the world and my passion within the opportunities it holds. From a young age, I tried a variety of different activities from gymnastics, steps, tennis, diving, snowboarding, horse riding, parachuting, playing guitar and more.

After my military service in the Israel Air Force, I spent a year touring South America where I fulfilled a dream and bought 5 horses (with 4 other Israelis I convinced), riding a path almost as long as the state of Israel.

My parents called me an “astronaut” when growing up (an Israeli expression for someone who is a bit spacey); ironically, I then became a pilot and I wrote to NASA to apply to their astronaut program. I was told that I could only do so if I was either a US citizen or officially sent, like the late Ilan Ramon, by the State of Israel

I grew up as a child in the US, and I still drink milk with cookies. Not very Israeli, but very American.

NM: Leket is a well-known name in the Jewish Professional community in Israel. Tell me a bit about your family.

YL: We are the only family in Israel, and probably in the world, with the name Leket. The name was Hebraized from Leker by my grandparents who made Aliyah to Israel before the Holocaust. My father, Kobi Leket, worked for the Jewish Agency (JAFI), and for many years and was head of the advocacy department of the World Zionist Organization. As a boy, our family lived in LA where he was a a regional shaliach with JAFI. My uncle, Yehiel Leket was active in the Labor Party and various Zionist organizations and was the Chairman of the Jewish National Fund.

NM: So, like father like son! Currently you work as a teacher in the Israeli school system, specifically with youth at risk. Why did you decide to make a career in education after many years in the Israel Air Force?

YL: I think that the question is the opposite. From my teen years I was involved in informal education, beginning as a youth counselor in the Maccabi youth movement. Being a pilot was more the exception of my life plan, but even in the air force, in addition to being a fighter pilot, I was a commander of flight cadets as well as other educational leadership roles. Before my release it was clear to me that education is my calling and identity. In the army you invest in people so you can accomplish a mission, but for me – people are the mission. My role with the youth at risk is challenging, but very satisfying and the bottom line, I never feel that I am going to “work.”

NM: So, you’re a pilot. The IAF is considered one of the best Air Forces in the world. Why do you think that this is the case?

YL: There are a number of factors: the quality and professionalism of the people and the desire to keep learning to be the best, while also being given a lot of responsibility at a young age. Making mistakes in Israel is not usually considered negative and we aim to learn from them. We are a small country and fairly isolated and we must be ahead of our game to survive in this region, so we must think out of the box and be creative which is part of the Israeli DNA.

NM: You are leaving Israel at interesting times. What would you say are the greatest challenges facing Israel now?

YL: It is interesting to see Israel as part of a global community during this pandemic. The Corona pandemic is actually not an isolated problem on its own but brings to the surface the need for more stability in the political leadership, no matter what side of the political spectrum one supports. There is currently too much division in the country and healthy dialogue needs to be encouraged, especially when we disagree. We need to find more common denominators in the national discourse.

NM: So what changes do you hope to find in Israel when you return in 2-3 years?

YL: That the temperature should be cooler (today it is in the mid 90s in Tel Aviv and the humidity is shocking). But seriously, that the political leadership will move towards real unity as well as learn from the current pandemic. The language and discourse of both the media and social media needs to be more sensitive and less violent and at the same time, we need to become better listeners. In my field of teaching, I believe that the Ministry of Education has a stellar opportunity to reinvent itself.

NM: What do you tell people who are considering making Aliya, moving to Israel?

YL: I tell them that they are very brave! It is challenging and very hot here (both temperature and temperament), but basically Israel is a very dynamic and diverse country, and you can never be bored here. Even though it is a small country, everyone can find his or her place. Israelis love to help and be supportive; the Israeli hutzpah is also the Israeli hug.

NM: Prior to your arrival to Michigan, what is your understanding of the Detroit Jewish community?

YL: The first thing that comes to mind is family, welcoming and warm. Secondly, a proud community, proud of their work and contributions, devoted and very professional as well as aim to stay relevant to the challenges. A community of action. There is a desire to always improve, do good “tikkun olam”. I love the phrase “here for good”, which says a great deal.

NM: And what is your favorite Israeli food?

YL: My mother’s home cooked food.

NM: Restaurant?

YL: On Friday afternoons I get together with the “Hevre” (the buddies) to “wipe” hummus with pita. It is the quintessential pre-weekend, Shabbat experience.

NM: Writer?

YL: Etgar Keret

NM: Book?

YL: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

NM: Hebrew expression?

YL: Yiheye Besder – it literally means that “it will be ok” has two different meanings at the same time – It’s a powerful optimistic message, and I embrace that energy and try to implement it in my life and work. But at the same time, it is a warning sign, which reminds us to fight recklessness and strive to be responsible, professional, and especially sensitive in our lives. Our late Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin expressed the danger in that notion in one of his famous speeches.

NM: What is your favorite TV Show?

YL: Once A Week with Tom Aharon, a weekly satire show dealing with issues that affect the lives of Israelis.

NM: Vacation spot?

YL: Camping in the Negev and Judean Desert.

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