Israeli emissary follows in Zionist footsteps of his father

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Like many sons, Elli Booch has followed in his father's footsteps and gone into the family business.

It's not a business over which he could hang out a "Booch and Son" shingle. Particularly since his work means leaving home, often for years at a time.

But there's no doubt that Elli Booch learned the job and caught the passion from his father.

Elli Booch, like his father, is a shaliach — an Israeli emissary.

Booch is an emissary for the Israel-based World Zionist Organization, which is dedicated to strengthening the connection between the diaspora and Israel by sending shlichim to Jewish communities throughout the world.

Booch arrived in California in September and is working at the East Bay office of Young Judaea, an American Zionist organization. His goal is to instill a love and appreciation for Israel in American youths through education.

"I'd like to double the number of kids going to Israel on summer or post-high school year-long programs because of the impact these trips have on the kids," Booch says.

Already Booch has started Israel-focused educational programs for children in grades three through 12, and is planning summer activities for Camp Young Judaea West in Santa Rosa, where he will be the educational director.

In March, Booch launched a pilot leadership training program for high schoolers. Through weekend workshops and community service, Booch wants to develop youth leaders who will then work with younger children making much of the movement youth-led. If successful, Young Judaea will adopt the youth leadership program nationwide.

Also in March, a Jerusalem Sound and Light show created by Booch debuted at Israel Education Day in U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall College of Law. Through slides, music, films and readings, the audience was surrounded with images of historic and modern Jerusalem.

Not a bad list of accomplishments for five months' work.

Booch's practical training began long before he officially became a shaliach. He spent his teens in Calgary, Alberta, where his father was on shlichut teaching Hebrew. Accompanying his father, Booch learned what being a shaliach was all about.

Booch attended junior high school in Canada, learned English — which he speaks with barely a trace of an accent — and developed a sensitivity to the identities of Jewish teenagers living outside of Israel. In spite of having no official title, Booch was no less an Israeli emissary than his father.

"When you're a kid at school, you're representing Israel all the time," he says.

Returning to Israel profoundly affected him.

Born and raised in Givatayim, a suburb of Tel Aviv, Booch had taken living in Israel for granted. But the few years' absence made him realize how much Israel was a part of him.

And his passion was stoked.

Booch became active in the Israeli youth movement as a counselor for Israeli youths and groups that came to Israel through the Young Judaea program. He also worked for the Society for the Protection of Nature.

While working at the nature-preservation group Booch discovered a planned north-south highway would mean sacrificing a wilderness area east of Tel Aviv. Not only is the area of environmental and archeological importance, but Booch had a personal stake in preserving the Yarkon tributary: His grandfather was killed there during the Israeli War of Independence.

In an effort to preserve the region and alert the Israeli public to its importance, Booch and a friend wrote "The Yarkon Tributary," about the endangered area.

The fate of the highway remains undecided.

Although Booch and his wife of nearly a year, Meirav, miss friends, family and home, the adjustment to living in California has been quite easy.

"There's not much difference between the quality of life," says Booch. "We've been treated wonderfully."

The most difficult period for Booch was following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

"Here it was a shock to the Jewish community but life went on, whereas in Israel, life stopped for that period," Booch says. "It was very difficult to be away from that."

But Booch is not one to be detoured by grief. If anything, it's made him even more ardent. Bursting with ideas and energy, Booch is eager to add more speaking engagements to his already packed schedule.