Israeli teens arrive for year of building bridges
Five ‘rishonim’ prepare for work in synagogues, schools, youth groups
Five young Israeli rishonim join senior colleague Rozi Ben Ami, rear middle, and supervisor Daphna Yizrael, third from right, soon after arriving to spend a year in the community. They are, front, Coral Levy, and behind her, from left, Shahar Sabag, Adi Ben Harosh, Inbar Sade, and David Marder.
Photos by Elaine Durbach
September 11, 2012
Within a week of their arrival, five young teenage emissaries from Israel who have come to spend a year with the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ had already learned what big shoes they have to fill — and welcomed the challenge.
“All of a sudden, we are a ‘hot commodity’ and everyone is looking forward to meeting us and speaking Hebrew with us!” Shahar Sabag told NJ Jewish News soon after the arrival of the rishonim (roughly, the “first ones” in Hebrew).
And that, they acknowledge, is because their predecessors made such a great impression. “We hope we can be just as good as they were,” said Coral Levy.
This is the 10th year that the federation has sponsored rishonim. All 18 years old, they are high school graduates who have opted to postpone their army service for a year while they represent Israel in local day schools and synagogues, visit public and private high schools, and run programs for camps and youth groups.
With the merging of the Central and MetroWest federations in July, the group will serve their combined territories in Essex, Morris, Sussex, Union, and parts of Somerset counties.
Working with them through the federation’s Legow Family Israel Program Center is Rozi Ben Ami, 23, an emissary who has already finished her service and earned a college degree.
All were selected from a pool of hundreds who apply to the sponsoring organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel. All have gone through a long process of preparation, with classes both to brush up their Israeli know-how, and to prepare them for life in the United States.
The teens are hosted by local families. Daphna Yizrael, their supervisor, said the young Israelis form bonds that long outlast their one-year stay. The host families stay in touch, and often visit them in Israel.
For this new crew, the getting-acquainted process began with a few days spent with just two families — Jay and Wendy Sabin in Montclair and Eric and Sharon Gordon in West Orange. They were driven around the region, taken to New York City, to a Jets game, and to stores like Target and Party City.
They also were introduced to New Jersey roads and motorists. The federation provides each with a car — a luxury some haven’t had before. David Marder declared Jersey drivers very polite; Shahar wasn’t so sure, but he was eager to get behind the wheel himself.
Most of the group have been to the United States before and some specifically to New Jersey. Some came through youth programs, including the Diller Teen Fellows, which links American and Israeli high schoolers, and Tzofim, the Israeli Scouts.
“I think those experiences made us even more interested in coming back to the U.S.A. for a longer time,” Adi Ben Harosh said. Most have already had experience teaching other youngsters, as leaders in programs at school or in their home communities.
Marder’s parents are both immigrants to Israel, his mother an immigrant from Boston, his father from England. His family is Modern Orthodox, and being on programs like this with people from different backgrounds, he said, has made him “understand how much we have in common, that we’re all human beings.” He would like to foster that kind of friendship among different groups in Israel, and between Israelis and Americans.
Emissaries up close
Rozi Ben Ami, Or-Yehuda
Her goal: “To show that Israel is a very beautiful place, that there is not only war there, and there are different types of people. And I want to be helpful to the community.”
What she would like to learn: “I want to understand more about American corporate culture; it’s very impressive.”
Adi Ben Harosh, Rishon Letzion
Her biggest surprise so far: “How comfortable I am and how I have been accepted with open arms by everyone I have met.”
First hosts: The Greene family, Short Hills
Shahar Sabag, Oranit
His goal: “Many people aren’t connected to Israel and I would like to connect them to Israel through myself and my story, and show them that Israel isn’t only what they see on TV.”
First hosts: the Angoff family, South Orange
Coral Levy, Rishon Letzion
Her goal: “After visiting the community, meeting previous rishonim, and seeing their work here, I felt that I have to be a part of it as well and give back to the community.”
First hosts: the Epstein family, Randolph
Inbar Sade, Rishon Letzion
Her goal: “To show that the connection to the Jewish community in the U.S. is very important to us.”
Her biggest surprise so far: “Driving in New Jersey! — drivers are so polite compared to Israelis.”
First hosts: the Sysler family, Short Hills
David Marder, Rehovot
His goal: “I want to learn how it feels to be part of the most influential nation in the world, and whether or not it makes you more critical of other countries.”
First hosts: the Gutkin family, Denville