We thought we were doing a mitzvah – reaching out to a young person far away from home in need of a family. What we didn’t realize was how much we would gain from the adventure and how it would enrich our lives.
Israeli Emissaries 2005
As we prepared for Ofri to move into our home, we worried about how we would adjust our busy family schedule to make room for her needs. We worried that she would be shy, that she wouldn’t be comfortable opening the refrigerator or using the phone or relaxing on the couch watching TV. We worried about having a teenager – with a driver’s license – living in our home and if she would follow our curfew and rules. We worried, most of all, that her presence would cause us to act differently, and walk on eggshells in our own home, with a four-month guest taking residence in our house.
We couldn’t have been more wrong. From the moment Ofri stepped into our house, we knew that our worries were for nothing. We sat down as a family and discussed our rules, our schedules and how we ran our home. We asked her to be open with us about her needs and we promised to be honest with her as well. From then, it was just the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Within days, Ofri seemed at home, opening the refrigerator to make a sandwich, or settling on the couch to watch TV with the kids. She joined us at the table for dinner, called home when she was out late, helped load the dishwasher and soon was just another kid in the house. At night, she beaded with our ten-year-old daughter, or listened to music with our thirteen-year-old son. And, when the kids were asleep, she stayed up late with me, talking about her life in Israel and her hopes for her work here in the States and her dreams for the future. Even the dog and cat were enchanted, and curled up bed with our newest family member.
It was a joy to hear her chatter away in Hebrew on the telephone and each day she sprinkled new words into our vocabulary – mitsuyan (perfect) became a favored expression and each time she left we would yell “lihitraot.” When she showed us her pictures from Israel or shared stories, it was impossible not to feel her love for her country. When her parents came to stay in our home to celebrate her bat mitzvah, the connection was cemented and when they returned to Israel, we knew we had formed a bond for life.
Before Ofri came to our home, we struggled with the idea of visiting Israel. Our children were afraid, worried about bombings that they heard about on television. Visiting Israel, to them, was not an option. It was something they simply would not consider. After Ofri entered our lives, they began to realize that she lived an existence similar to their own and that if she could live in Israel, they could certainly visit. They began to ask questions, look at picture and soon longed to see the places she spoke about so glowingly. Now, we are planning to visit Ofri this summer and our children talk of Israel with excitement, not fear. Ofri made Israel a reality in our home – she brought the country to life through her words, her stories and her love for her country. Most importantly, she created a bridge between our home and her home in Israel. Her work in the States helped us to see how interconnected our goals as Jews must be and how we need each other to achieve a lasting future for our faith.
Ofri was also a wonderful role model as a community-minded teen. Her decision to spend a year of service in the States illustrated an important lesson for our children. They saw firsthand how she created programs and events to educate Americans about Israel and they saw how even a young woman could make a lasting mark. Through Ofri and the other emissaries, they saw young people who were willing to put themselves out for a cause they were passionate about – Eretz Yisrael. Through the emissaries, our children began to understand the true wonder of Israel and I am certain they will be forever touched by this program. It is my hope that this is just the beginning of their connection to Israel and that they will draw on this experience to support Israel as they build their lives as adults.
By Stacy Kamisar