Israeli Chronicles — Connecting Israel & Cincinnati
Young Emissary Makes Impact, Feels at Home in Cincinnati
Each September the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati welcomes two new Friends from Israel/Chaverim M’Israel. This year we welcomed Adi Itscovich and Asaf Munk, who will stay through summer 2019. This is the 15th year of the Friends from Israel/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.
When my twin brother, who is a young emissary in New York City, visited Cincinnati a few weeks ago, I introduced him to my host family by saying I was their guest. “No, Asaf. You are not our guest. You are our brother,” they said. The feeling, as people say, is mutual.
Four months after arriving in the United States and Cincinnati for the first time, I have become part of a new family. I have become part of a warm and welcoming Jewish community—a community that cares for me and where I feel like I am making a difference.
I am part of the Rockwern Academy community.
Each week when we arrive at Rockwern Academy, the students are excited to see us. They welcome us with hugs and cheers. We have gotten to know the kids. Not only have we taught them a thing or two about Israel, we have connected with them and made an impact on them personally.
At the beginning of the year, Maggie did not often participate in our activities, or even in class. She sat quietly off to the side. One day, I asked Maggie to sit next to me. This simple act of engaging her in what we were doing, of singling her out and making her feel like a special part of the class, changed her whole demeanor. By the end of class, she was jumping up and down, excitedly participating—and her classmates were cheering for her. I had gotten Maggie to come out of her shell.
Benjamin is a young dancer, a second grader at Rockwern. In Israel, I was a dancer, so we made an immediate connection. Benjamin’s mom told me later that he had been having a hard time but finally found in me a role model—someone he could look up to. She thanked me for just being myself and taking Benjamin under my wing.
When I came to Cincinnati, I knew I would be teaching kids about Israel, but I didn’t anticipate the connections I would make with some of the students. I didn’t know how much I could impact a young kid’s day—or maybe even life. I feel the weight of that now, and it’s an amazing feeling to carry forward with me through the second half of the year.
I am part of the Polasky family.
Les and Molly Polasky and their son Danny have embraced me as part of their family from day one. They embraced my twin brother, Dan, when he came to visit. And more recently, they have embraced my family in Israel.
Months ago, my host family had planned a trip to Boston over winter break. When they found out, however, that my parents were going to visit New York City, they changed plans immediately. “If your parents are going to be in New York, we’re going to New York,” they said. “We want to meet your family.” We had three amazing days seeing the city and a Broadway show together.
Within two hours of meeting, it felt like they had known each other for years. My brother Dan clicked with my host brother Danny. Dan and Danny now have their own jokes. We all had an incredible time just hanging out together. I was always a twin, but now I’m a triplet.
My mom and host mom Molly became great friends, despite language barriers. My mom does not speak much English, and my host mom doesn’t know much Hebrew. Yet, they find a way to talk to each other, using their hands and a few words here and there. They even find ways to talk about me—in only ways a mom can do.
My host mom is traveling to Israel in May with the Jewish Federation and its Partnership2Gether program. My mom is counting the days until she arrives. In fact, the whole Polasky family is planning a trip for the following year. It’s so touching. I never thought I would be so quickly accepted into a family of people who were strangers just a few months ago.
I am part of the global Jewish community.
I am grateful to be a part of the Jewish community in Cincinnati. When I was attending the annual seminar for all of the young emissaries currently serving in the United States, I spoke with others about their experience. I came away thinking how lucky I am to be where I am. How lucky am I to be on a team in Cincinnati. The work Adi and I are given is making a significant impact on people in Cincinnati, and the organizations we have interacted with really value what we are doing.
When I experience connections with the students at Rockwern, with my host family, or between families, I can’t help feeling it is because we are connected through our Judaism. I am Jewish from Israel. Maggie, Benjamin, and the other students, the Polaskys and many others are Jewish from Cincinnati. Our Judaism is what has brought us all together. We have so much in common. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have come to the United States, to Cincinnati, even to learn that.
This month I will move in with another Cincinnati family, Guy and Miriam Peri. While I’m sad to be leaving, I’m looking forward to becoming part of another family and expanding connections with my global Jewish family.
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