2018-06-06 / Home

Israelis on a mission to connect Diaspora to Israel make first SJ stop


The Israeli delegation OTS Amiel BaKehila visited Politz Day School as part of their inaugural visit to South Jersey. Pictured (from left), were Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider, musician Barak Malichi, Ayden Lubin, Berel Mangel, Tiki Brody, Chaim Kahan, Avraham Hirsch, Atara Juni, Jayde Mellul, Orli Kirsten, Bayla Blumberg and Israel Engager Oren Sapir. All the students are Politz fifth graders.
The Israeli delegation OTS Amiel BaKehila visited Politz Day School as part of their inaugural visit to South Jersey. Pictured (from left), were Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider, musician Barak Malichi, Ayden Lubin, Berel Mangel, Tiki Brody, Chaim Kahan, Avraham Hirsch, Atara Juni, Jayde Mellul, Orli Kirsten, Bayla Blumberg and Israel Engager Oren Sapir. All the students are Politz fifth graders. By JAYNE JACOVA FELD

Voice staff

Lunches in hand, Politz Day School middle schoolers walked into a lecture hall on an early June afternoon for an assembly they surmised would be another talk about Israel.

Oren Sapir, a member of a three-person delegation visiting under the auspices of Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, was first up. As the students ate, Sapir, a lecturer and tour guide, presented photos of the excavated City of David, offering a fascinating glimpse of Jewish life in Jerusalem during the reign of the Hebrew kings.

Next up was “Nidal.” Rabbi Avraham Glustein, head of Politz, introduced the lanky young man as a Palestinian living in the West Bank. Nidal would talk about life for Arabs in the territories under Israeli control and then lead an exercise in negotiating peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

Glustein encouraged the kids to ask questions “Israeli style.” “You can disagree with him, but do it in an open and honest way,” he urged.

From the get-go, this presentation was unlike any other they have experienced at the Orthodox school--and it perked the students right up. Nidal, who said his family first lived as refugees in Jordan after fleeing Nazareth in 1948, described horrid living conditions and treatment by Israelis that lead many young men like him to desperate acts.

“The Israelis put us in a position of too much anger and too much oppression,” he explained.

As some students grew visibly uneasy, others shot out questions, including whether Nidal wanted Palestinians and Jews to live side by side, and if he thought Jews have a right to the land too. It was a heated discussion, to say the least.

Then, some 20 minutes later, Glustein cut it off, explaining that Nidal was actually Barak Malichi, a 26-year-old Israeli musician who was drawing on his experiences as a commander stationed in the West Bank during his stint with the Israeli Defense Force.

“This is a learning experience I need for you to have,” Glustein said. “There is suffering on both sides. It was an exercise to show you how complicated life is and that you always need to treat people with respect.”

For Malichi, Sapir and Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider, the third in the delegation, it was also an experience unlike any others they had during their travels to different parts of America with OTS Amiel BaKehila, a unique new program bringing Israeli-style Jewish education as well as arts, music and culture to small and mid-sized Diaspora communities over the course of seven visits in a year’s time.

From June 3 to June 5, the three visitors held more conventional programs. In Moorestown on June 3, Sapir spoke about archeology while Malichi played music at an event hosted by the Moorestown Jewish Association. On June 6, they held a concert for seniors at the Katz JCC. Prior to that, they spent three days each in New Orleans and Charleston, SC. Their mission was complete after their stay in Cherry Hill.

Worldwide, OTS Amiel BaKehila is dispatching dynamic three-person delegations to 24 communities: Six each in Europe and North America and 12 in Latin America. Each delegation consists of an educator, an Israel engager, and an artist whose mission is to unite, excite and connect people in these communities to the State of Israel, according to the organization. Delegates are fluent in the language and familiar with the culture of the community.

OTS Amiel BaKehila launched this year, with the first group of Israelis dispatched to Poland in May. South Jersey’s participation happened by accident. Sons of Israel Rabbi Ephraim Epstein learned about the program while in Israel in March to participate in the Jerusalem Marathon. While most other communities are smaller than South Jersey, Epstein said he successfully sold organizers on Cherry Hill as a diverse community that supports Israel even as there are varying and strong opinions.

“The goal of them coming is to engage with the community and for the entire community to rally together around Israel,” Epstein said.

Rabbi Goldscheider, a Long Island native who made aliyah six years ago, will be the only of the delegates returning for six more visits to South Jersey. He will be coming with a different “Israel engager” and artist each time. The idea is bringing Israelis with different specialties and talents to appeal to different people in the Diaspora communities, he explained.

The next visit is slated for late August; although dates are still to be worked out, according to JCC Cultural Director Sabrina Spector, noting that the committee planning events for the delegation is open to any and all Jewish organizations.

“The JCC is using this as an opportunity to partner with other organizations,” she said. “We are hoping to reach all sorts of organizations and groups to collaborate to bring more Israeli arts and culture to our community.”

Goldscheider noted that this first visit was somewhat of a light launch, short on programming and more of a fact-finding mission to get a sense of the community.

Those who participated were highly engaged, Spector said. “The seniors loved Barak. They were asking for his CDs,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t think any of us on the committee knew what to expect. We are very excited for what’s coming to the community in the coming year.” 

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