From Israel to Hillel on Campus
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
December 1, 2016
In Hebrew, the word is Shaliach (שליח), meaning emissary – a messenger, an ambassador of good will.
Say the word shlichim שליחים and even with a smattering of Hebrew, you know that we are speaking of more than one shaliach.
Through a program of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) in partnership with Hillel and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, currently there are four shlichim representing Israel on Michigan campuses.
Hand-selected by the Jewish Agency and self-selected to make Michigan their second home, they comprise an elite group of aspiring (and inspiring) young Israelis, post grad students, educators and born storytellers who have come to Michigan to share their experience, their culture, their cooking, their humor, their Judaism, their challenges, as well as their hopes and dreams for their future in Israel.
Israel up close and personal
Over coffee and kugel on an October morning between the Jewish holidays, in a conference room at the Max M. Fisher Federation Building in Bloomfield Hills (with a call into the Hillel office in East Lansing), myJewishDetroit caught up with Michigan’s busy shlichim – Liraz Baksis from U of M Hillel, Or Furer from Hillel of Metro Detroit, Rotem Reiter and Ziv Zelinger, both of MSU Hillel and the Hillel Campus Alliance of Michigan (HCAM).
Meet Or Furer, 27, from Rosh Ha’Avin, Israel Fellow to Hillel of Metro Detroit
The newest member of the team, and new to Michigan, Or is a Jewish Agency Israel Fellow, who welcomes the pace and challenge of the bustling urban campuses that she serves. “I heard about the job when I was a student at Ben Gurion University,” she stated.” With my background in Psychology and Education, I feel that I have an important job to do here. I was a commuter student myself, living at home, and can identify with the students I meet every day.” During her last year at Ben Gurion, Or raised a seeing-eye puppy named Happy and she’s willing to tell anyone about it.
Meet Liraz Baksis, 28, from Ra’anana, Israel Fellow to U of M Hillel, Ann Arbor
Focusing on all things Israel, Liraz is a Jewish Agency Israel Fellow in her third year at the University of Michigan Hillel. A familiar face of Israel to many on campus, Liraz has grown up with many of her students through her years with Federation’s Israeli Camper Program and as a Michigan Partnership2Gether facilitator for Teen Mission and other programs as well. “When I finished the army and came to work at Tamarack Camps, I saw immediately the connections and relationships that I would be able to create,” she says. During her first summer in Michigan, Liraz met her beshert, Eviatar Baksis. Over the past seven years together, Liraz an Eviatar have locked steps in their academic and career paths, working as shlichim in Michigan, where they celebrated their marriage this past summer.
Meet Ziv Zelinger, 27, from Nazareth Illit, Israel Fellow to the 10 campuses in the Hillel Campus Alliance of Michigan (HCAM)
No stranger to Michigan, Ziv started his journey as a Tamarack Camper from Israel at the age of 14. “That experience changed my life forever,” he says. Determined to return to Tamarack after his military service, he worked as a counselor through the Jewish Agency for the three summers from 2011 to 2013. In a path similar to his colleagues, Ziv started working for the Partnership2Gether program during his college years. In the summer of 2014, he staffed Federation’s Teen Mission to Israel. Upon graduation, he applied for the Jewish Agency Israel Fellows Program. Thrilled to find a spot available in East Lansing, he jumped to the opportunity to cover Michigan campuses statewide through the HCAM network.
Meet Rotem Raiter, 27, from Givat Ela in the Jezreel Valley, Israel Fellow to MSU Hillel, East Lansing
Rotem worked his way to Michigan, starting five years ago as a counselor at Tamarack Camps. Since then, he’s worked with the Detroit Federation through the Partnership2Gether region in various capacities helping to build the Young Adult Forum (the Region’s equivalent of NEXTGen Detroit).” I applied to be an Israeli Fellow with the goal of coming back to Michigan,” Rotem says, “This is my community, my second home, and I want to give something back.”
Q & A with Liraz, Or, Rotem and Ziv
myJewishDetroit: Tell us your Hebrew word of the day and please explain its special meaning to you.
Or: Tov/tova טוב meaning good, is an appropriate word for the day, especially now through the Jewish holidays. When we say “L’shana tova. Have a good year,” we mean more that a happy new year. We wish each other all good things – productive things – things that are good for us in the year to come.
Rotem: Chavaya! חויה That’s Hebrew for experience. We have a lot of different chavayot in our lives, and my chavaya living and working here has been amazing. My hope is to share my chavaya as an Israeli with the students here in the U.S.
Liraz: My word is סיפור Sippur – story. Because I’m thinking about our holidays, the book of life, the stories we share, and what is going to be my story for the year to come. I think a story represents what we’re doing here, because at the end of the day, we are living our own Israeli story trying to connect to the students on campus.
Ziv: My favorite word is משפחה – Mishpacha, family. My family means the world to me, and for me this word also describes the feeling of family which I get with so many close friends who I have met along my journey in Michigan.
myJewishDetroit: Describe your role as Shlichim on your campus
Or: In brief, my job is to work with students to bring Israel to life on all our campuses. I want them to see Israel as I do, that it’s so much more than all the headlines they see in the news.
Rotem: Our job is to bring Israel to the campus and show the sides of Israel our students generally don’t see. We’re here to answer any question students may have, to hear their ideas, and help them organize events to connect them to Israel and build their Jewish identity.
Liraz: I love working with our students. I see them as the future of the U.S. and the future of the relationships between our two countries.
Ziv: As part of my job, I oversee multiple boards of students and interns and help them create Jewish life, learning and experiences. Along with my team of student leaders, I am also in charge of all the Israel programming on every campus. So I’d say we cover a lot of ground between Israel and Michigan.
myJewishDetroit: Describe a special event where you believe you’ve made an impact.
Or: I’ve been here just a few months – just starting to get the pace of life on campus. Later today, to bring a taste of Israel to the students, we have an event about Israeli cooking. We’re making enough potato-stuffed burekasim (burekas) to feed an army. We hold Shabbat dinners every month, but most of our students are commuters, who live at home and spend Shabbat with their families. On a larger scale, next month we are planning an Israel Tour at Oakland University for example.
Rotem: There’s so many clubs, so much going on for students on campus, I’m always surprised when students – Jewish and non-Jewish students alike, take time to come to us to hear about Israel or walk into my office just to talk. We started a new thing – Israel: Take Five, Get Wise – meet up for coffee at various spots around campus. IsraelFest is our largest annual event on campus. This year, our focus is on the Desert in Bloom.
Liraz: As a married couple, Eviatar and I have opened our home for special occasions. For Rosh Hashana we had 20 seats open to anyone who wanted to join us for a traditional Moroccan dinner. Something that I have realized over time is that the Ashkenazi Jewish culture here is very strong, but not a lot of people know about Diaspsorati Jewish culture. My parents are Mizrachi Jews, so it’s important to me to bring some of that culture to the table and share it with our students.
Ziv: What first comes to mind is a recent event that I organized with my students at Grand Valley University. We built a long wooden table and invited people on campus to put their (painted) handprints on it – in a show of hands for their support for peace and co-existence in the Middle East This event was hugely successful and we were able to engage a lot of students in meaningful conversations about Israel.
myJewishDetroit: What have been some of your biggest challenges?
Or: So far it’s getting the students to commit to activities on campus, especially on long term projects. Mainly because they are really busy – they have commitments to family and jobs. Just getting them out of their work-study routines can be a challenge.
Liraz: My biggest challenge is managing pro-active programs during what we call “quiet times” on campus. We get hundreds of students coming to our doors when there is anti-Israel activity on campus that puts us in a position to defend Israel. Our challenge is to capture our students’ interest and their passion and to engage them all the time. It’s ironic really: we always hope for quiet at home, but on campus we have the opposite issue.
Rotem: I would agree with Or and Liraz: Competing for our students’ time and attention is our greatest challenge. Campus life is so busy – there’s Greek life, club activities, so many choices – our students have a lot going on. On the flip side, I’m still always amazed when we succeed: when our students dedicate their time to a country that is 6000 miles away. I know it’s my job, but I was especially proud last with when I led an Afro-American fraternity to Israel, and they were able to relate the African-American struggle to the Jewish struggle in Israel.
MyJewishDetroit: What have been some of your greatest take-aways from your experiences as Shlichim?
Ziv: What impresses me the most is the passion my students have for the State of Israel. People in Israel have no idea what these kids do to stay current on the news, to create Israel programming on campus, educate their peers and defend our country on a daily basis.
Liraz: I think I am a better Jew – and a better Israeli – because of spending my time here.
Rotem: I’ll come home with the idea that there are great students here in Michigan who fully support Israel, and we take heart that they will be the next leaders in the U.S. who we can count on.
Or: I’m learning something new every day. The students in Israel and here seem worlds apart – but only on a superficial level. Really, there are not so many differences between us.