CENTRAL MASS. – When COVID-19 sidelined the Young Emissary program last year, the Central Massachusetts Jewish community lost a connection to Israel that the Southern New England Consortium (SNEC) program has provided for 18 years.
But that connection will be renewed later this year in Worcester with the arrival of an Israeli shaliach.
And that shaliach is no stranger, — Aviv Jerbi served in Central Mass. as a Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership2Gether Young Emissary in 2014-15.
Jerbi, 25, will arrive in Central Mass. in August and stay a full year.
As shaliach, he will live in his own apartment, as opposed to living with host families as he did as a young emissary six years ago.
Jerbi will work with synagogues throughout Western Mass. and their religious schools, and on projects with the Jewish Federation of Central Mass., which is sponsoring the program.
“We are so excited to welcome a shaliach into our community next year,” said Steven Schimmel, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central Mass. “There are tremendous opportunities to continue to enrich and strengthen our connection to Israel, and I’ve been working closely with our Young Emissary Coordinator Liz Baker to ensure a successful shaliach program. Ashaliach will undoubtedly enable us to develop deeper and more meaningful connections, especially as our community returns to normalcy from the pandemic.”
“Aviv has been in our community so he already has relationships with many people,” Liz Baker said. “He was really very well loved, and I’d say his biggest strength is connecting with people. It just made sense to have somebody like him come here.
“All of the heads of the religious schools really missed the emissaries, and they were so excited to hear about the return of somebody that they know.”
Jerbi hails from a small village called Tefahot in the north of Israel.
His mother and her family made aliyah from Morocco. His father’s parents made aliyah from Libya, but he was born in Israel. Jerbi, like other Young Emissaries, delayed his service in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in 2014 for a year to participate in the program.
After returning home to Israel, he fulfilled his military service. After spending some time travelling, he began working at the Alexander Muss High School, an English-speaking school in Israel. Jerbi currently is director of informal education at the school where he handles “recruiting and training counselors, managing them logistically and their activities,” he said.
One of Jerbi’s goals has been to return to the U.S. as a shaliach, and he underwent extensive training at the Jewish Agency’s Shlichut Institute to prepare. He attributes his interesting in being a shaliach to his love of education.
“Education is something that I’m very passionate about, especially about Israel,” he said. “My plans are to begin my high education right after my Shlichut.”
Jerbi said his previous year in Worcester and the relationships he forged there will be an advantage in his work as shaliach.
“I’m calling it a soft landing and even more then that, Central Mass. is a safe place for me, a second home,” he said. “I came a long way there as an individual, professionally and personally.”
Baker said that the decision to bring a shaliach into the community was made at the beginning of the year. After such a draining year dealing with Covid, she and Schimmel decided that hiring an older, more mature and independent shaliach would be a better move for the community.
“They’re a little bit more on their own, and for me, I won’t need to be on top of him. They have more experience. After serving in the IDF I’m sure they know a little more, they’re obviously more mature at that age,” Baker said.
While there are currently shlichim in both Rhode Island and New Hampshire, none of the SNEC communities throughout Massachusetts or Connecticut have signed on to the Young Emissary program for the 2021-2022 year.
Last year, after Central Mass.’s Young Emissaries were forced to go home in March due to the Covid pandemic, Central Mass. remained connected to some of their former emissaries through “Where Are They Now?” articles written by the young people, and Café Israel, a Sunday morning Zoom presentation by emissaries.
“It was a great year for me in that I spent a lot of time talking to all these kids who I really love. It’s all about the relationships,” Baker said. “I was able to really spend a lot of time visiting with them and got regular information from them. A number of them are now married with kids. Some of them are still in the IDF.”
With four months before Jerbi arrives, Baker and the Federation are still looking for an apartment where he can live during his year in Worcester.
Anyone with an available apartment are asked to email Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (508) 320-9351.