Flying the Flag: Training the Newest Shlichim of Medinat Yisrael
BY ROI ABECASSIS AND ARIEL CHESNER
Every year, over 600 Religious Zionist Israelis leave their homes, jobs and daily routines to serve as shlichim to Jewish communities around the world. We ourselves have been privileged to be shlichim as well. Shlichut is an empowering and unique experience, a role that transforms the shaliach’s identity from a private individual to a klali Jew – a person who lives and breathes for the broader community. As a shaliach, your interests and needs broaden beyond the personal and individual to include those of the community and the nation; your mission is now to serve Am Yisrael.
One of the most inspiring shlichim in Jewish history was the prophet Yishayahu. The prophet describes a conversation of the פָּמַלְיָה שֶׁל מַעְלָה, a conversation between G-d and the angels – but Yishayahu joins, uninvited: “I heard the voice of the L-rd, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us?’” Hearing this, Yishayahu doesn’t remain a bystander, but cries out: “Here I am! Send me!” (Yishayahu 6:8–9) I will fly the flag!
The Torah is not merely a historical book, but rather an educational one. The word “Torah” originates from the word “הוֹרָאָה” – teaching. Yishayahu’s reaction is not recorded to tell us what happened then, in his time, but to teach us how we should act today, in our time. Like Yishayahu, every one of us must ask ourselves: what can I do for our people? What are my unique talents? What will be my shlichut for Am Yisrael?
Rav Soloveitchik explains that a life of shlichut is not “extra” or “optional,” but rather foundational to Jewish life. And it is the times in which we live that guide the nature of our shlichut:
“The fact that someone lives in a certain time, in a special period and in a definite place, and was not born in another period and in other circumstances, we can understand only if we accept the very idea of man’s shlichut. Providence knows where and how the individual with both his weaknesses and his strengths can fulfill his shlichut; under what circumstances and conditions and in what society will it be in the power of man to fulfill his shlichut.” (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Yemei Zikaron).
Currently, the Religious Zionist paradigm sends shlichim from Eretz Yisrael to the Diaspora. But is this paradigm correct? Should the opportunity to live an enriching and fulfilling life of shlichut on behalf of Am Yisrael be limited only to those who possess a teudat zehut (Israeli identity card)?
We believe that no matter where you live in the world, whether in Israel or in the Diaspora, that we are all on shlichut – and that the purpose of our shlichut has never been clearer. We are living in times that our grandparents could only dream of, when our people are once again sovereign in our land and when the long awaited kibbutz galuyot, the ingathering of the exiles, is happening before our very eyes! That extraordinary events are taking place is indisputable; the only question is: will we watch these events from the stands or will we play an active role on the field? For those who love Am Yisrael, there is only one answer. Wherever we find ourselves, we must fly the flag of Medinat Yisrael! Wherever we are, whatever activity we are engaged in – each of us is needed to fly the flag.
The “what” is clear; the only question is “how.” And so World Mizrachi and the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora of the World Zionist Organization have developed “Flying the Flag,” a program intended to develop a new generation of shlichim from the Diaspora.
“Flying the Flag” offers gap year students who are studying at yeshivot and seminaries in Israel the opportunity to participate in programs that directly address their future role as shlichim in the Diaspora. Students participate in shabbatonim or tiyulim that culminate in an uplifting and motivating tisch led by Rabbi Benji Levy. The tisch challenges the students to consider their own roles in advancing the cause of the people and State of Israel. After meaningful discussion and reflection, we ask the students to commit to serving Am Yisrael in the years ahead – wherever in the world they may go.
The early feedback on “Flying the Flag” has been very positive. Noam Fendelman, a student currently studying at Yeshivat Torat Shraga, draws a direct line between his yeshivah studies and reaching out to unaffiliated Jews in America. “I want to bring back my experiences, my knowledge and my learning from this year in yeshivah and share it with others so that they will also love Judaism and want to seek it out.”
Rutti Hall, a student at Midreshet Emunah v’Omanut, explains that her time in Israel has strengthened her desire to be an activist within the Jewish community. “I want to be an active member of the community, to share a taste of the incredible people and communities that are thriving in Eretz Yisrael.”
Together with the Religious Zionists of America, we are developing many shlichut opportunities, both on campus and within the Jewish community, so our young people will have many opportunities to make a meaningful contribution to Am Yisrael as they enter the next stage of life. The shlichut can vary, but it must always bear a connection to the State of Israel.
To date, more than 1,000 students and staff have registered for the program, and we are certain it will continue to grow. As we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, let us all stand proud as Jews, and do our part to fly the flag of Medinat Yisrael!
For more information about “Flying the Flag”, please contact Ariel Chesner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roi Abecassis is the Head of the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora at the World Zionist Organization. Before assuming his current position, Roi served as the Mazkal (Secretary General) of World Bnei Akiva. Roi lives with his wife Yael and their five children in Modi’in.
Ariel Chesner is the Director of the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora at the World Zionist Organization. He previously served as the Director of the Resource Development department at World Bnei Akiva. Ariel lives with his wife Ephrat and their 5 children in a small yishuv in southern Israel.