March 29, 2007
By JENNIFER ZEBERKIEWICZ, Special to The News Journal
Emissary Hila Elhayany uses
a trivia game to teach first-graders
at the Albert Einstein Academy
about Israeli history.
Photo: MATTHEW JONAS
WILMINGTON -- When the Jewish Federation of Delaware wanted to promote a vibrant Jewish community, they brought in Hila Elhayany.
Elhayany, a 26-year-old Israeli born and raised in the desert community of Lehavim, arrived in August for a yearlong mission as schlicha, or emissary.
"The emissary program brings a living bridge between Israel and our community in Delaware," said Ruth Rosenberg, who as director of the federation's annual campaign and community capital campaign, is Elhayany's supervisor. "It provides a much better understanding than just reading a book or seeing a video. An emissary makes it personal."
Elhayany volunteered with the Jewish Agency for Israel, which started Partnership 2000, a program that aligns communities in Israel with countries around the world. The city of Arad, Israel, is Delaware's sister community. The Jewish Federation of Delaware and the JAI both fall under the umbrella organization United Jewish Communities.
"I think the community feels comfortable with me because I'm not an ambassador. I don't represent the government. I'm someone they can relate to," she said.
The main objective of the unit is to increase Jewish awareness, knowledge and pride, to bridge the gap between Jews of different backgrounds and Israel and to promote an understanding of Israel and its ideals, she said.
"After graduation, I was looking for an opportunity to learn another culture and possibly go abroad, but I also wanted to do something for my country," she said. "I saw an ad and applied, interviewed and was selected based on my ability to speak English, do public speaking, and my ability to teach about Judaism."
This is the first full-time job for Elhayany after college. (The federation provides a furnished apartment and a car, with a small stipend for food and expenses.) She attended the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where she earned her bachelor's degree in political science and sociology. Out of 5,000 young Israelis who applied, fewer than 100 are chosen to be assigned communities in Canada, Europe and the United States.
As an emissary, Elhayany is rarely in her office in the Community Services Building downtown.
She stays busy working at various organizations within the community.v She meets with classes at the Albert Einstein Academy, a K-sixth grade day school, where she discusses topics such as Hebrew and the Israeli political system, society and history.
She works with Hillel, an organization that serves the Jewish community at the University of Delaware. There, she coordinates Israeli movie night, orientation for students visiting Israel for the first time and special events such as dinners and parties.
She visits the Milton and Hattie Kutz Home for seniors.
She holds speaking engagements at local synagogues.
"My schedule is full of activities, and I haven't had a lot of time to travel yet," she said. "But I've enjoyed everything I've done so far. I really enjoy working at the day school because the children get very excited when we talk about Israel, and I want to make it somewhere they'll want to visit," Elhayany said.
"I also enjoyed speaking to the local Rotary club. It was outside of the Jewish community, and they asked a lot of interesting questions."
Of particular interest, she said, was her experience in the Israel army. At age 18, Israeli men are required to serve three years in the Israeli Defense Force; women serve two. "It matures you a lot," she said. "It's imperative until there is a peaceful situation, and all Israelis grow up wanting to go to the army. Patriotism is very strong in my country."
"One big difference between Americans and Israelis is that they have different feelings of their country. When they think of themselves, they don't' think as individuals; they think of themselves as a whole, as a community, as a country," said Rosenberg. "Americans have more of a mind-set of one person as a whole."
"I grew up and realized how much I get from my country and think 'I want to give back,' " Elhayany said. "In the army, I was stationed in the legal department. Some people ask to be in specific units; others get stationed. For those who go into combat, it is considered an honor, very prestigious. To be a pilot, it's very impressive."
What has impressed Elhayany about the Delaware Jewish community is the connection its members have to Israel, even though some have never visited the homeland. "It's amazing how well they continue the traditions and religious observances. I'm off on all Jewish holidays and am constantly surrounded by customs. It's a real effort for people here, and they do a tremendous job." Elhayany said the Delaware community warmly welcomed her.
"The community is very knowledgeable of the homeland and current events," she said. "Many have offered support during last summer's war in Lebanon. I think because in my homeland there is no separation of church and government, Jews around the world feel a real connection to Israel; it's a special thing only the Jewish community has."
"I'm just blown away with how well she can speak English," Rosenberg of the Jewish Federation of Delaware said.
"Hila is a very bright, idealistic young lady, very politically minded who can explain the volatile situation of our homeland. She just loves her country and has so much to share with us here."
Elhayany said her biggest goal is to coordinate the first Remembrance Day Celebration in Delaware -- to remember Israel's fallen soldiers and victims of terrorists' attacks.
"This has been a tremendous learning experience for me," she said. "When I return to Israel, I would like to work in education of some form. I've enjoyed teaching so much here, and I want to continue."