Anat, born and raised in Beersheba, was a member of a youth movement where she served as a counselor. After her army service, she went to Canada as a counselor for Jewish Agency summer camps. Upon returning to Israel, she heard of the young volunteer emissary program which sends young volunteers worldwide to Jewish communities, large and small, established and new. These dedicated volunteers reinforce Jewish identity and present Israeli culture in Jewish community centers, schools, synagogues, youth movements and campuses, thus reaching people of all ages.
Initially Anat was reluctant to go to the United States, but once it became an option, the idea of a small community in the Deep South appealed to her. “Otherwise, I would probably never hear about these places or have an opportunity to go there,” she reflects. “I found the people in Mobile to be very warm and calm. The laid back pace reminds me of life in the Negev where I come from.” The Jews in Mobile show a keen interest in Israel, and sometimes updated Anat on the latest events in her homeland before she had a chance to hear about them.
Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Mobile is on Hurricane Alley. During last summer’s Katrina hurricane in nearby New Orleans, the Jewish community opened their hearts and homes to the non-Jews and Jews who fled to Mobile.
The small Jewish community in Mobile, with about 1,000 members, has neither a Jewish school nor a JCC. Therefore, the volunteer emissary fills an essential gap - especially among youth. In two synagogues she taught Hebrew in Sunday schools, and presented lectures and activities connected to the holidays. For the Jewish Federation, Anat’s work was more enterprising and included lectures and organizing large Chanukah and Israeli Independence Day parties. She worked with the other shlichim in Alabama as well as the Israeli consuls in New York and Atlanta who helped her find performers and hasbara material.
|Anat (second from right, front row) with Young Judea members collecting food and items for Katrina hurricane survivors|
In addition, the Jewish Agency Young Volunteers Unit in Jerusalem helped Anat every step of the way. “Tamar Gruber, the Communities Director, would call and remember each event, check how things are with me, and send material. We also used the Jewish Agency Education website which is really helpful.”
Because the Jewish community is small and due to the city’s character, the Jewish Federation finds it important to work also with the non-Jewish population in various venues. “I lectured before them about Judaism, Israel and current events. Some of the non-Jews were supportive of Israel while others were not.”
Anat and three other Jewish Agency emissaries in small Southern Jewish communities traveled together to discuss life in Israel in their cities. The emissaries were Tzvi Rosenberg serving in Birmingham, Mika Ribak in Montgomery and Erez Shilon in Pensacola, Florida. “We were called ‘the Fab Four’. Each one of us comes from a different place in Israel, and represents different facets of Israeli society whether secular or religious, urban or kibbutz lifestyle,” says Anat. “We each introduced our viewpoint about Israel, and the communities were fascinated by the various aspects of life in Israel.”
Although staying on in the community for a second year is a decision made by each individual shaliach, Anat feels that her work improved in the second year. “By the time you reach the second year, you can work the system better, more ideas come up, and you can initiate new projects. I continued for another year in order to get things done like seminars, hasbara lectures or general activities with the community.”
Occasionally youth from Mobile visit Israel and Anat is their address. She stays in touch with members via email.
“I gained so much,” states Anat at the conclusion of her two years in Mobile. “I gained the tools and the opportunity to learn different things that I did not have a chance to learn before. Judaism unfolded to me in a totally new way.”
Written by Batsheva Pomerantz