Israeli Chronicles — Connecting Israel & Cincinnati
For Young Emissary, the Big Picture is all about Small Gestures
Each September the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati welcomes two new Friends from Israel/Chaverim M’Israel. This year we welcomed Darya Solomon and May From, who will stay through summer 2020. This is the 16th year of the Chaverim M’Israel program, which brings two post-high school teenagers from our partnership city, Netanya, to Cincinnati to share their stories and teach people across the Cincinnati area about Israeli life. This is a Partnership2Gether (P2G) program of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati.
The following article was written by May From.
From the time I submitted my application for the Chaverim M’Israel program to my arrival in Cincinnati, more than a year passed. I went through several rounds of interviews and testing (some of which I was late for) by The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati. In August, as I sat at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, bags in hand, waiting for my flight to Cincinnati to take off, I thought about what was ahead. Even though I had been thinking about it and planning for it for a year, my journey was truly just beginning. I jotted down these three questions:
Why am I going?
What am I looking to accomplish in Cincinnati?
What do I think will impact me the most?
As I boarded the plane, I was anxious, and to be honest a little afraid, but I was also filled with excitement. These three questions kept going through my mind as I imagined the next year of my life and how I would be changed at the end of it—and how I would change the Cincinnati community, even in some small way.
My first day in Cincinnati was not easy. Usually more accustomed to being out of the spotlight, that day I was the main attraction; all eyes were on me as I walked through the Federation offices and was introduced to the staff. I quickly learned I would have to get used to my new role as May: the coolest girl from Israel. What a departure from May: the surfer girl with a twin sister and two adorable dogs.
That night, I got a text message from someone I had not yet met: “I want to say welcome to Cincinnati! I’m your age, and I thought we could hang out together when you’re not working.” What may have seemed like a small gesture to her was monumental for making Cincinnati start to feel like home. That one text was everything—thoughtful, sensitive, and exactly what I needed at that moment.
I wondered if, in my own way, I would make a similar impact on someone in Cincinnati. That happened during an event at the Mayerson JCC Senior Center in December. A woman who is not Jewish, but who participates in activities at the J and has a number of Jewish friends, asked if it would be appropriate to put a Star of David on her Christmas tree. She explained that she wanted to honor and celebrate her friends’ faith but wanted to be culturally sensitive as well.
The group assured her it would be a lovely gesture. The problem remained, however, of where to purchase a Christmas Star of David ornament—for obvious reasons. It occurred to me that I had something that would work in my car: a keychain. By the time I was able to grab it and bring it back in, she was gone, so I left the keychain with the Senior Center. A few weeks later, I got a beautiful note from her telling me how impactful and meaningful that small gesture was. She said she proudly hung it on her tree at Christmas.
I think these two interactions resonated with me because they were moments of kindness, of humanity. They answer the question, what am I looking to accomplish in Cincinnati? The easy answer is to teach people about Israel. However, throughout my life, what I hope to accomplish is to be a person first—a kind person—and to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Because I am from Israel, whatever I do here in Cincinnati that is positive, creates a positive feeling about Israel. It piques people’s interest and makes them want to learn more, which also happens to be what I was officially brought here to do.
Why did I come? For adventure—a new kind of thrill I can’t catch riding a wave. For a broader perspective of the world and of Judaism. For new family and friends. And for community.
As for what has impacted me the most… only time will tell; I have so much work yet to do this year. But so far, it has been the people.
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