Israel In Your Community

Engaging Communities Abroad, Building One Back Home

After serving as an Israeli emissary around the world, Eran is creating something new in Israel.

After three years as a shaliach (Israeli emissary) in Canada  Eran Shafir recently moved to Eliav, a pluralistic community in the Negev. Eran, now the Jewish Agency’s Director of Israel Engagement, sees a common thread between his home community and his life’s work: the drive to make Israel a better place. 

Although Eran has only been in his new position since August, he has been living and breathing Israel engagement for years, both in his home country and abroad. 

Eran’s experience in Israel-related education has included two stints as a shaliach several positions in Israeli nonprofit organizations, and – in his personal life – the work of building a community that he hopes can serve as a model for pluralism in Israeli society. 

Through all these experiences, Eran sees a common thread. “I’m connected to Israel in all my heart, in everything that I do,” he says. “Both in my private life – establishing a community in the Negev, which is an intentional community where we aim to form a different model of Israel, of being together, Orthodox and secular – and, in my professional life, trying to make Israel a better place.”

Bringing North American Communities Together

Perhaps no event better encapsulates Eran’s approach to Israel-related education than last month’s first-ever Building an Israel-Engaged Community conference, which he organized. The two-day event, which was sponsored by The Jewish Agency for Israel and the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, took place in Toronto. Over 70 participants attended, representing 18 local Jewish Federations. 

Broadly speaking, Eran explains, last month’s conference had two goals: “connecting young Israelis to their Jewish identity and Diaspora Jews, and connecting young Diaspora Jews to their Jewish identity and to Israel.” 

More specifically, the event aimed to empower Jewish communities by helping them share knowledge and develop a more coherent strategy for strengthening their connections to Israel. “When we talk about Israel engagement, we want to make sure that the federations have a strategy regarding everything that’s done around Israel,” Eran says, including “the way Israel is taught in synagogues, schools, camps, Birthright trips, [and] programs in Israel.”

Although the conference took place after Eran had already moved back to Israel, it reflected the approach to Israel-related programming that he had honed while serving as a shaliach. His goal is for the event to be held annually, each time in a different North American Jewish community.

Years of Preparation

Before serving as a shaliach in Canada, Eran served in a number of roles that gave him tools for his shlichut. He began working in Jewish and Israel-related education shortly after concluding his army service, and since then he has worked in a variety of educational positions in Israel and abroad.

Eran, who was raised in northern Israel, first served as a shaliach from 2004 to 2006, working with London’s Liberal (Reform) Jewish community. After returning to Israel, he worked for several nonprofits, centered largely around pluralism within Israeli society.

In a few of his subsequent positions, he notes, “I managed an Arab-Israeli NGO that promoted civic service for Arab citizens. [Then] I worked for an organization that promoted values through sports. And then I directed the Development Department at the Leo Baeck Education Center in Haifa.”

But, he explains, the real preparation for working as a shaliach in Canada was about more than just acquiring a professional skillset.

“I think a shaliach is somebody who has a story, who tells the narrative of Israel in a complicated way,” he says. “And I think my experience led me to see Israel in a complicated way.”

From the North to the South

Back in Israel since July, Eran now brings the perspectives that he has acquired as an educator and a shaliach to his community and to his new role within The Jewish Agency for Israel. He sees the job of the Director of Israel Engagement as an extension of his shlichut, allowing him to keep helping Diaspora Jewish communities build connections to Israel. 

Now that he’s back in Israel, how does he feel about his experience as a shaliach? 

“It’s an amazing feeling getting in touch, seeing the big picture, connecting with our extended family abroad,” he recalls. “Seeing different cultures and different ways of being Jewish and different ways of being human – it was amazing.” 

“And cold,” he adds with a chuckle – though he reflects on the warmth of the communities he served in Canada. 

“I’m grateful to the Canadian Jewish communities for their support both for Israel and for the Jewish Agency,” he says. “There are a lot of ways that The Jewish Agency is advancing Israel engagement, making connections within the Jewish world. And Canada was a great laboratory for that.”


21 Oct 2016 / 19 Tishrei 5777 0
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