Lior Zyser, a Jewish Agency shaliach in Peoria, Illinois, recently gave this talk to the Jewish community there on the occasion of her adult Bat Mitzvah. This is an adapted version of her dvar Torah.
January 20, 2011 / 15 Shvat 5771
For the past two years, I've been a shaliach (emissary) in Peoria, Illinois. In that time, Peoria has became my second home, and the Jewish community here has become my second family. How do I define home? I know the names of the streets and how to find my way around. I know where to go for groceries, for clothes, for entertainment. And I think (or I hope) that I got used to the weather.
But the harder question is: How do I define family? Of course, I’ll consider any blood relative of mine as family, but coming here to Peoria, I discovered my extended family, the one that takes good care of me when I’m away from home. From the very first moment I got to Peoria, people opened their homes and hearts to me. People I know I can always turn to for anything. Whenever I feel down or upset, my friends here look after me and know exactly how to cheer me up. This community has many incredible people in it and that’s what makes this place so special.
In the training program before going on shlichut, we read a very interesting article by Yair Lapid. In his article he wrote about his encounter with Jewish communities from the States. They wanted to know what he, a respectable Israeli writer and journalist, thought of them - the Jewish people living outside of Israel. Lapid answered, "Honestly? I don’t know." He had never had any interaction with American Jews before, and he had no idea what their lives are like, how they express their Judaism, and why in the world they care so much about Israel if they don’t even live there, and maybe had never even visited?!?
|Lior Zyser is a Jewish Agency emissary working|
with the Jewish community in Peoria, Illinois.
He concluded with the words, “I’m afraid that in a couple of years, the Jews in the Diaspora won’t know how to speak Hebrew with their brothers in Israel, and the Jews in Israel won’t know how to speak Judaism with their brothers in the Diaspora.” This got me thinking.
I believe Israel would lose a great deal if we didn’t know how to communicate with the Jewish people around the world. These days, Israel really does need the help and support from the global Jewish community, whether it was dealing with the effects of the awful fire in the Carmel Mountain that took human lives, homes and trees or offering moral support as we strive to negotiate for peace with our neighbors and struggle to remain optimistic and positive in the meantime with tangile results on the horizon. We need the support of our global Jewish community when one of our children, our brother, Gilad Shalit, remains held captive by Hamas somewhere in Gaza for over four years. It’s during these difficult times when we need our family closer than ever.
I came here to build these bridges between the Jews in Israel and the Jews in America, starting here in Peoria. With classes, lectures and events, I’m trying my best to educate the community here about Israel and advocate for it.
But I also want people in Israel to know about the spiritual and financial support they receive from their Jewish relatives. I want them to appreciate it.
And I certainly don’t want to be one of those Israelis who doesn’t know how to speak “Judaism” and is ignorant about progressive Judaism that is not YET very common in Israel.
In the meantime, I am so glad to have this opportunity to come here, to this incredible community, to meet people that have changed my life and taught me so much.
Toda Raba to all of you.