June 2012 / Tammuz 5772
This month, we welcome home all of our shlichim who have been serving abroad, in particular the young shlichim. To these communities, they have been the face and heart of Israel and of The Jewish Agency, motivating youth and adults to learn about issues affecting other Jews in Israel and around the world, and acting as a catalyst for communities to develop their own educational programs, new institutions, and most of all, their young leadership.
At the same time, we wish our Summer Camp Shlichim Bon Voyage as they head off to volunteer around the world. These young Israelis have been invited by the camp leaders to be a part of the experience of the campers in order to engage young Jews throughout the world with Israel – in an unmediated way. They will share bunks, ideas, songs - they will share their summers with young Jews of different ages. For a young Jew abroad, there is nothing like this unmediated experience of meeting an Israeli who is of a similar age to you but whose experiences have been very different. There is no better way of understanding the inner life of a young Israeli. This summer, our shlichim will come into contact with over 75,000 young Jews worldwide.
This encounter is the goal of one of The Jewish Agency’s core enterprises. This year, over 1,500 shlichim were chosen from more than 7,000 applicants through a very careful selection process, including 250 outstanding combat soldiers who apply through the army as part of their military service.
However, shlichut has a whole different side to it that we pay much less attention to: What happens to the Israelis who have this immersion experience in the summer in terms of their understanding of world Jewry, its subtleties, its complexities, and its issues? What happens as they confront their own personal Jewish identity? What does it mean to be introspective and thoughtful about something that they have taken for granted by virtue of the fact that they live in Israel, by the Jewish calendar, and that they speak Hebrew?
One can only imagine what it feels like for someone who has grown up in a totally secular environment in Israel suddenly to be thrust into a camp of a liberal denomination, to find themselves on the first day of camp participating in egalitarian prayer, when they have had very little experience of prayer, and very little experience of pluralistic Judaism.
In addition to the needs of the camps, The Jewish Agency makes possible an in-depth experience of world Jewry for these young people, many of whom are ultimately going to grow up to be leaders in Israeli society. This model is, in some ways, the mirror image to how young Jews from outside of Israel deepen their Jewish identities when they come to Israel on Taglit-Birthright Israel, Onward-Israel, and on Masa Israel Journey.
One of the opportunities facing The Jewish Agency when the shlichim return to Israel, is how to build, not only on the leadership abilities and talents that they have developed through being summer camp counselors, but on this powerful experience that a young Israeli has of having to become reflective about their Judaism and about their connection to the Jewish people.