By Rotem Bar
It is hard to believe that two years have passed in a blink of an eye, and very soon I will be making my way back to Israel. In my wildest dreams, I did not envision this experience to be as meaningful as it was.
Back in February 2018, only days after being told I was accepted to the Shlichut program, I got a phone call asking me to interview for a lovely community named the Lehigh Valley. At first, I thought ‘Wow! California could be fun.’ But after a short Google search, my California picture turned into a state I could not spell, views of trees, steel, Amish and the Liberty bell. Honestly, I did not know what to think, but after interviewing with the Federation, I just had this feeling that this is meant to be (luckily so did they). I was excited for the opportunity to represent Israel, to be part of something so meaningful and to create and build the Shlichut position in the Lehigh Valley. I was thrilled and excited, but I did not realize then that I had made a decision that will change my life as much as it did. A few months went by, and I was on a plane with a suitcase full of dreams. (Very cliché but so true! Also, I had way more than one suitcase.)
It has not been a traditional start, and it is definitely not a traditional end. The past two years, you have shown me the power of community. It was inspiring to learn the dynamics of Jewish life in the Lehigh Valley. I was amazed how groups and individuals live together in harmony as one strong community as you do here. I quickly understood what a model example this is and how much there is to learn from it. You have let me into your homes, hearts and let me share “my Israel” with you in every encounter we have had. We might have met at Federation, at one of the synagogues, maybe at the JCC, in the corridors of JDS or over dinner. We might have met at one of my Israel programs or JFS. We probably passed each other at Giant or at one of the many community events. Every encounter with every one of you has made an impact on me, and I will always cherish that. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this treasured, one-of-a-kind journey. A special thank you to Federation and the Gaines family for allowing this to happen. Thank you all for collaborating, being partners and showing up to the activities, programs and ideas that I brought with me. Thank you for listening and allowing me to learn and, most importantly, for all the meaningful relationships and bonds we were able to create together. All of which I am so proud of.
There is so much to say, and it is hard to sum it all up on paper, but I will say the most important thing I have learned is how strong we are as human beings, as a Jewish people and as a community. I hope we will always use these strengths to make this world a better place. I will definitely take all that I have learned from you back home with me, in the hope that I can pass this on to the people around me. In these uncertain times, I do not know exactly what my next step is, but I do know it is going to be amazing, and I promise to share it with you as soon as I have settled down back in Israel. Over the past two years, I feel that I have planted the roots of shlichut here, and I am very proud of what we have created together. I am certain these roots will continue to grow each year with the shlichim to come. We have an awesome shaliach coming in this year, and I know you will welcome and embrace him as much as you did me.
I will be leaving my second home here in late July. It breaks my heart that due to the pandemic, I cannot properly say goodbye to all of you before I leave, but I will always have a place in my heart for this wonderful community. I hope you know that you have a friend in Israel, and I will be waiting to see you when you come to visit. I will miss you all; this is not ‘Goodbye’ but a ‘L’hitraot,’ until we meet again.
With lots of love and gratitude,