For the past 16 years, the Israeli Young Emissaries have called Sharon Reisman Conway “Mama Sharon.”
This fall, Mama Sharon will retire from her position as coordinator of SNEC’s Young Israeli program.
“It’s been 16 years and its just time for my next chapter,” Conway said.
Conway became director of the program in 2004 after the departure of its first coordinator, Rabbi Andy Hechtman. She had become familiar with the Young Emissary program while serving as chair of Hartford community shaliach Asaf Ron’s Israel committee.
“Asaf was helping Andy, so I got to know a lot about the program. I often said to Andy, ‘If you ever thinking of quitting, let me know because this could be a really fun job.’ The kids are really stimulating and interesting, and I could spend time in Israel.”
Conway came to love Israel after her first trip there as a teenager. She went with her family one summer when her father was on a sabbatical.
“I spent a summer on a kibbutz and then kind of fell in love with the country,” she recalls. “Then after college, I did a gap year kind of similar to what these [emissaries] do when they come here except I did it in Israel.
“I did volunteer work in the community with the Department of Welfare with families that have children who were developmentally disabled. And I lived in an apartment with other American girls. We didn’t have host families but there were families in the community who sort of were our connecting point, and it was a life changing experience for me. It was at that point that I thought maybe I was going to stay and live there, but I determined ultimately that it was too big price to give up my close connection with my family.”
Years later, when her own children were teenagers — “and they needed me less” — Conway took the position as Young Emissary coordinator.
“In many ways, this was the perfect job for me. It would keep me connected to Israel and would allow me to speak Hebrew, which I do. And even though I wasn’t able to move to Israel this was giving me the opportunity to deepen my connections with Israel and travel there.”
Indeed, Conway travelled to Israel every year since taking the position to participate in interviewing and selecting the candidates.
As she prepares to step down, Conway speaks proudly of all of the young Israelis she has helped nurture over the years.
“I’m still in touch with such a huge percentage of them. Every day I hear from somebody; they send a baby picture or ask ‘Could you please be a reference for me for medical school?’” she said. “They are all in various careers and doing interesting, exciting things.
“For me, one of the greatest rewards is seeing how each of the emissaries personally developed and changed and to watch them basically grow up with the pride of feeling they contributed in a meaningful way, which all of them did.”
Main Photo: Sharon Conway (center) with some young emmissaries.