It has been an honor to serve your community

Throughout my four years as consul general of Israel to the Pacific Northwest it has been an honor to be an envoy to Jewish communities in five-and-a-half states, from Monterey to Anchorage. I head back home enriched with experiences, knowledge and insight of what Jewish life should strive to be all over the world.

Born in the Jewish state, my Judaism came naturally and unapologetically, having less to do with religion and more to do with culture and life as an Israeli. As I reached out to the Jewish communities of this region, I tried to bring to them an understanding of Israel, its challenges and complexities, rather than simply following the lead of the headlines.

Establishing a dialogue with these communities paid back professionally and personally. Professionally, we increased awareness and solidarity through events like Shop Israel and by bringing Israeli cultural events to the communities. Personally, I leave with a sense of this community, its warmth, richness and the importance of making a choice to be Jewish. I was able to connect with my own roots through reaching out to all of the branches of Judaism.

A defining experience came at Beth Am in Los Altos Hills. Senior Rabbi Janet Marder, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, was conducting a Shabbat service at which she welcomed new members to the community who made the choice to be Jewish that we see as a given reality.

In her special way, Marder led the new convert into sharing her life experience of making the decision to join a new congregation, a new religion and a new life as a Jew. A moment later she was reciting in memoriam the names of that week’s list of Israeli terror victims. How reflective it was of our challenges as Jews and Israelis.

Thinking of the convert, I have never heard a more compelling account than that of Ruth, grandmother of King David. She also made a choice of tradition and values, a life of commitment, new responsibilities and a new understanding of tzedakah and tikkun olam. We may believe that charity should start at home and repairing the world starts in our own community, but Judaism is also about fulfilling responsibilities beyond our immediate selves. We must straighten out our priorities in Israel, education and continuity. Yet we must not give up on the belief that as a light unto the nations we need to carry on our traditions of sharing core values and bridging differences.

How could we do this if it were not for Jewish community centers, Jewish schools and Jewish institutions? In that regard I have been so honored to take part in the openings of new Jewish schools, the new San Francisco and Peninsula JCCs, and the activities of the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

I then made it to a small temple in Everett, Wash., for a Reform rabbis’ conference where I was asked to speak after the rabbi and cantor led Shabbat services. I asked to be introduced to the cantor who impressed me with a commitment and a depth of voice as she immersed us all in prayer. I have never seen a cantor so engrossed in prayer as she was that night. She was telling me about her life, and her choice to become Jewish. Once again I realized the importance of my Judaism through a convert who swept me to join her singing by giving it a new interpretation. No words of mine can describe the feeling of belonging and connection when Shabbat songs are heard in a synagogue, wherever it is in the world.

I have learned through experience about the multitude of ways and places to be Jewish in this region, but there are certain aspects that unite us all, that make us a community: culture, language, tradition and Israel. My visits and meetings to different communities on any given Friday recharged and empowered me as an Israeli and as a Jew. They made me feel a part of something bigger than our individual daily challenges, recognizing the depth of support, solidarity and interest in Israel, and a commitment to its well being by community members.

At Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco I experienced firsthand how crucial community building can be for the future. By embracing everyone and catering to the varied needs of the community, the leadership sets a precedent for continued Jewish life in the city. There, a 6-year-old questioned me about electricity and transportation in Israel. Elsewhere I was asked about kosher McDonald’s. This is another expression of interest in Israel and the need to invest in Israel education from early childhood on. Synagogues, lay leaders and rabbis bring us all together for weddings, b’nai mitzvot and Shabbat services. These events are all part of what makes us feel Jewish and keeps us Jewish.

In our modern life, rabbis have the major challenge of reaching out and molding Jewish identities in an era of the Internet and “e”-everything. This entails leading a life of responsibility, meaning and challenges, of investing in Jewish institutions, culture and education in the Bay Area.

We have recently seen the fruits of these investments in the shape of new JCCs, thriving new Jewish schools and rich cultural programs. We have seen support for Israel become more active and passionate and at the same time less apologetic. This is a tremendous development as we continue to grow as a community and as a people. We are all partners in this effort.

As I end my assignment, I head home with a better understanding of what it means to be a Jew and the role American Jews need to continue playing in reaching out to support Jewish communities all over the world. I have always felt honored to be Jewish and now I know why.

Yossi Amrani is concluding his term as Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest.

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