JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - "The Jewish Agency is very relevant to Jews in South America searching for a sense of belonging," says Ravital Poleg, who will soon take on the post of chief representative in Rio de Janeiro, after a five-year stint as Consul at the Israeli Embassy in Quito, Ecuador.
There are some 95,000 Jews in Brazil, with most of them living in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other smaller cities. The Jewish Agency deals with many aspects of their community services, including aiding Aliyah, Taglit-birthright, Masa, educational programs such as Machon for Youth Leaders from Abroad, the Hillel youth movement for students, related school activities, and student exchange programs, and more.
Poleg's life story could serve as a chapter in Zionist history books – and one she says could serve as a role model for those yearning for a closer attachment to Israel.
In the 1950s, Revital's parents – who had been living on kibbutz - decided to pioneer in then nascent central city of Kiryat Gat, in the newly-developed Lachish region in the western Negev desert.
The Jewish Agency founded the Lachish Region Authority, which was meant to absorb the massive wave of Aliyah throughout the 1950s and create a continuum of communities between the Gaza Strip to the south, and the Har Hevron region to the east.
"This was my education at home," she recalls. "My father was a founder of the Aliyah Bet (second wave of pre-state immigration to Israel) and clandestine immigration via The Jewish Agency, and my mother was an immigrant from Chile," who taught her Spanish at home. "I experienced a very 'Israeli' childhood, with all the parts of society that came to the region."
The communities were planned and built to accommodate Jews from the same, mostly middle-eastern countries, as part of conclusions drawn from earlier waves of Aliyah.
The villages were run by a system of "Transitional Farm Management," meaning that, since most of the immigrants were originally from urban areas, and unfamiliar with farming and pursuing agricultural livelihoods, Jewish Agency employees aided them in gradually developing their homesteads into independent, agriculture-based villages.
Poleg says that, growing up under such circumstances suited her, and that the need for "integration" as a putative newcomer, "was a vague concept, because I lived among all Aliyah members as an equals."
Her decision to work with the Jewish Agency followed a long development period, in which she worked in the Youth and Pioneer Departments (of the Jewish Agency), served as administrative assistant for then Knesset Chairman, and former Agency director, Avrum Burg, and was later active in founding the Peres Center for Peace.
"I am ready to begin this task," she says of the new post, adding that, "we have much to offer and this is my real challenge with the local community."