Amnon Maggid — Connecting Israel & Cincinnati
New Cincy Fellow Makes First Weeks Count, Despite Holiday Closures
By Shelly Zeiser, Cincinnati Fellow in Israel
Shelly Zeiser, 26, is spending a year in Netanya, Israel as the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati’s Cincinnati Fellow in Israel, or Cincy Fellow. Shelly is an American emissary who is teaching Israelis about life, culture, and Judaism in the United States. While many cities, including Cincinnati, welcome emissaries from Israel to the United States, the Cincy Fellow program is the first to do the reverse. The Cincy Fellows are a Partnership2Gether (P2G) program of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati.
I have spent almost a month and half in Israel, and I still feel like I just arrived. What, then, have I been doing for the past six weeks? For starters, I have been learning to embrace the
balagan, a new Hebrew word I have learned which basically means “hot mess.” That is not to say Israel or my life has been a hot mess—far from it!
However, I have had challenges I did not anticipate. I am still constantly walking into a dark bathroom, only to realize the light switch is outside the door. I ignored a bowl of limes for three days until I finally discovered that they weren’t limes, and that oranges in Israel can actually be green! I have learned that there is a right way to effectively air dry your clothes and a wrong way, one that results in soaked floors, starchy t-shirts, and smelly jeans.
I have spent the past month learning that my fashion choices (skirt length, hats, layered scarves, etc.) send subtle messages about how religious I am and that having dinner with a “mixed family” means everyone is Jewish, but that some are Ashkenazi and others are Sephardic.
I have been struggling with how to answer the question, “Are you religious?” and have been searching for ways to experience community through Judaism. I’m simultaneously surrounded by it, and yet my community is halfway across the world in Cincinnati.
I have also been challenged with how this period of time in Israel doesn’t seem to “count.” My official first day teaching at Tchernichovsky High School was on September 1, but teachers joked that the actual first day wasn’t until October 3, due to what I consider an inordinate amount of time off for holidays.
It has been rather surprising living in a country where my religion is that of the majority, and I must admit, it has been so convenient! I have attended both Reform and Orthodox synagogues. I have watched sukkahs (temporary huts) light up the city skyline like Lumenocity and was extremely shocked to discover that restaurants build sukkahs, too! On Yom Kippur, I experienced a complete country shutdown, with cars standing still, TV channels going dark, and radios broadcasting silence. I learned that on Rosh Hashanah, some families not only eat apples and honey, but also beets in order to tell our enemies to “beet it!” And to top it all off, I did not once have to worry about missing school, because for the entire month of September, there were only four days I had to attend! Perhaps that is why I still feel like I have just arrived in Israel or why many experiences have seemed balagan, though I refuse to agree with the statement that this period of time in Israel doesn’t count.
I have watched the most beautiful sunsets while relaxing on Netanya’s beaches. I have sung at the top of my lungs at a Disney sing-a-long—in Hebrew! I attended a clown festival in the Kikar HaAtzmaut, Netanya’s Independence Square. I have been welcomed into the homes of the Partnership2Gether committee members, the families of former Chaverim M’Israel in Cincinnati, and have had many intense and meaningful conversations with strangers-turned-friends.
I spent time reflecting on and challenging my assumptions, and the assumptions of others, of what it means to be a Jew around the world. So for me, it counts for quite a lot. I am extremely grateful for the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Jewish community for the opportunity to represent them this year in Netanya. I cannot wait to see what amazing things will happen now that the rest of Israel agrees: the year has official started!
Thanks for caring about our community and what we do.
Stay connected: sign up for our newsletter here.