Thank You for Year of Learning Together

By Gili and Uri Hershkovitz
Israeli Shlichim

Hello, everyone!

As you all probably know by now, we are returning to Israel at the end of August, and this will be our final article for the newspaper. It’s been an amazing year for us, and we wanted to take the opportunity to thank you all for being an amazing community that really made our stay here incredible, fulfilling and rewarding. Thank you for opening your hearts and homes to us, for being a family for us far away from our own, and for teaching us so much. Though we are sad to be leaving, we are excited to bring back and share with everyone back home all that we’ve learned here and to help shape Israel as a home to Jews all over the world.

So Much to Bring Back to Israel
We want to share with you all that we’ve learned over the past year. In the past few years, the Jewish Agency’s goal has changed significantly and there’s a stronger emphasis on not only on what we bring with us to the community in which we serve but what we can bring from the community to Israel. This year has filled us with memories and experiences but also with thoughts, questions and information that we think are important to bring to light in Israeli society.

We hope that you believe that change and progress is gradually occurring in Israel, and we can act as your mouthpiece. This is the first time we’ve been in a position where we feel like we have a lot of influence, and we tried to make it meaningful. Returning to Israel, we hope to continue speaking out and acting toward change. It’ll be hard for us to go back to Israel and suddenly not be “interesting” anymore (or have to pay for our own food!) but that will not stop us from moving forward.

One of the first things we realized when we came here was that the U.S. is not all New York City, Florida and Texas. Sometimes it can seem that way when all you know of the country is from TV and movies. Coming to Akron and Canton, two communities that feel so much like home, gave us a new perspective on what America is truly about. We met all you amazing people here and found a new family for ourselves— you didn’t let us have even a single night alone at first. You made sure that we were happy and doing well here, and we have never stopped appreciating it. We want to let you all know that if you ever are looking for a home in Israel, our door will always be open for you. And, if you’re planning on visiting, let us know! We’d love to take you around.

Embracing Diversity
Another very important thing that we quickly realized was just how diverse and amazing Judaism is. Growing up in Israel, most of our friends had a passing, if any, connection to our people’s religion, and we mostly took it for granted. Even celebrating the holidays and living in a Jewish country, we mostly knew of one kind of Judaism, even though we learned of different streams in other major religions. Coming here, we were lucky to be part of a diverse community, with many interpretations and practices of our roots and faith. It is amazing to us to see the different synagogues cooperating and celebrating their Jewish identity together and the community coming together without being tied to any one building.

The story of our marriage (if you haven’t heard it yet, come speak with us!), just like the community here, is for a symbol of what Israel can be like one day. Though we are still far from a reality that acknowledges and celebrates the many beautiful streams of Judaism in Israel, we are slowly getting on the right track, and many small changes are happening at the grassroots level. We are proud to be part of this forward momentum and to keep the connection between Israel and the Jewish communities abroad evolving and strong. We better understand today how Israel looks from here, through both Jewish and non-Jewish eyes, and how things may be done better.

Exchanging Insights
Many things that we thought were obvious appeared to need further discussion, and some things that were shrouded in mystery slowly became clearer to us. We hope that the programs we did this year helped better showcase the Israel that we know and love, and the complexity (and fun!) of it. It was a great opportunity for us to sit down and think hard about what is important for us to talk about and what we want to bring with us. Being so flexible also gave us the opportunity to interact with the non-Jewish community in a meaningful way unlike we’ve done back home, and we think we better understand what it is like to work for your religion and culture and what being a minority in such a large place is like.

We’ve also had a lot of small funny realizations and moments of insight. For example, we’ve learned that Chag Sheni – the second meal or gathering of the holiday— is the day after the holiday itself and not the day of (like it is in Israel). We learned how to work a calendar, flit between two communities with different needs, and how to leave voice messages!

A very heartfelt thank you to all of you. We are so happy to have been part of your lives for this short time, and we hope that we’ll remain in touch, as you mean a lot to us.  This is not yet goodbye, and we invite you all to come to our farewell party in July.

After we leave Akron, you can contact us at:
Uri:     +972-525567610 • uri.hershkovitz@gmail.com • Uri Hershkovitz on Facebook
Gili:     +972-528665235 • gili.hershkovitz@gmail.com • Gili Hershkovitz Peled on Facebook