Why Israel and why now?

By Lior Zisser-Yogev, Community Shaliach

Why Israel and why now?

As a young girl, I had the privilege to go through a special, once in a life-time experience – to participate in the first delegation of its kind to a Jewish summer camp in the United States. I was 14 years old, a secular Israeli from the north, and the only thing I knew about Judaism was that, like all Israelis, my grandfather too was a rabbi, and that on Yom Kippur you don’t drive cars (so you can ride your bike on the road).

I arrived in Detroit in the summer of 2002 surrounded by Israeli campers who like me were happy to disconnect from the hot and humid Israeli summer. At Tamarack I got to experience for the first time something that Israeli teenagers only see in movies – living in a wooden cabin in the forest, swimming in the lake, taking trips to the great lakes, sitting by the bonfires at nights, and rain in the middle of August! But more than that, I got to learn about Judaism and Jewish community – Birkat HaMazon, Havdalah and the Jewish value of Kol Israel Arevim Ze Laze- all Israel are responsible for one another.

When I returned from camp I felt that I had discovered something secret and revolutionary that nobody talks about in Israel – the Jewish community and the pluralistic Judaism that exists outside of the country.

This experience opened a door for me to a whole world of Shlichut and Israeli education in Jewish communities of North America and Australia- with a purpose to bring the Jewish communities around the world closer to Israel, but also to make Israel worthy of the Jewish people. That’s why when going back to Israel I decided to work in the fields of education and government.

This is the path I paved for myself following the experience I went through – as part of the partnership program between the region where I grew up and the Jewish community in Detroit. And this is what led me now to come work here in Detroit- building bridges, expanding knowledge about Israel and connecting the Jewish community with the people living in Israel.

Today Israel is in turmoil. The polarization and division in Israeli society has reached a boiling point that brings hundreds of thousands to the streets, divides citizens into two opposing political camps, and damaging the common ground that has always relied on and held Israeli society together. The sense of trust between citizens of the state and its leaders has been undermined, and the basic social contract on which the Jewish state was built is in doubt.

So right now – Israel needs its brothers and sisters in the Diaspora by its side – to teach us how to maintain disagreement Leshem Shamayim, to compromise and forgive – and to find the wide basis that enables a common life between all the Jews, and those who are not Jews, in the state of Israel.

So that’s what I’m here for. I am happy for this opportunity to work with and for the Jewish community of Detroit – and looking forward to getting to know as many people as possible and broaden the connection to my home – Israel.