Shay Rubinstein joined our Federation all the way from Tel Aviv! As shaliach (Israeli emissary), Shay works on behalf of the Federation, as well as with synagogues, preschools, religious schools, youth groups, and other organizations, to create and promote Israel-related activities in Howard County. We sat down with Shay to ask him about being a shaliach and his experiences in a new culture.
What does it mean to be a shaliach?
To me, being a shaliach means representing my country and the Israeli public to the Jewish community here, inviting community members to become more familiar with Israel, and reinforcing the connection between Israelis and American Jews. It’s also important to me to have a personal connection with the community, creating relationships with families and community members.
What inspired you to become a shaliach?
My wonderful Jewish mother wanted me to become a lawyer and help run the family business, but I had other plans—to become a shaliach.
After three years of army service, including time as a commander, I was looking for a new challenge. Ever since I was a little boy, I have been interested in Israel advocacy. As a teenager, I was involved in advocacy delegations to London and Paris as part of the Israeli Center for Young Leaders. As it’s important to me to reinforce Israel’s connection with Jewish people throughout the world, I decided to become a shaliach.
What are the main challenges in your position?
Being alone here without my family and friends is a challenge. It can also be challenging to live in a foreign culture that has different social expectations. For instance, here I need to be careful to be polite and not as straightforward as Israelis typically are. It helps to make a lot of local connections and keep up with my shlichim friends who are also here in America now.
What is the most interesting thing that you can share about Israeli culture that most Americans may not know?
Israelis are very warm. When I meet an Israeli, I’ll call him achi, my brother. The Israeli culture is very welcoming, and in Israel, if you get to know someone new, it’s easy to make a connection and find out that you know people in common.
Also, the Israeli language contains many slang words that are heavily influenced by Arabic. For instance, the common Israeli word “yallah,” which means “let’s go,” comes from the Arabic word for God, “Allah.”
What is something about American culture that has surprised you?
I’m surprised that everything here is big and humongous. I live by myself, so at the store, I look for small onions, but there are only large onions. I look for small apples, but there are only big ones. I want to buy a package of five pieces of chicken breast and I end up with a package of 10.
What is something unusual that most people don’t know about you?
People don’t know this, but…I worked for the Mossad for many years—just kidding! I actually have heterochromia iridium, which means my eyes are two different colors: one is blue and one is green.
What do you love most about Federation?
The staff is amazing, and I received a warm welcome. I really appreciate that I have colleagues who can help me better understand the needs of the community. I like that the Federation is small and warm. Here there is a sense of friendship.
What is the most important Jewish value that you bring to your work?
Re’ut—friendship. As Jews, we are all bound together. Our Jewish motto is, “V’ahavta l’reacha kamocha”—Love your neighbor as yourself. I’m here to make friends and forge connections with community members. It is important to me to find common ground while respecting differences.
What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
Rosh Hashanah. During Rosh Hashanah in Israel, you get the feeling that everything is being renewed as the beginning of the Jewish year coincides with the beginning of the school year. It’s also a good opportunity to give good wishes to friends, family, and colleagues and thank them for their support. Every year, I write cards to my family members, wishing them a good year.
What is your favorite Israeli dish or meal?
Shawarma or kebab.
What’s the most important thing you learned in the army?
To work with a diverse group of people from different backgrounds and to be a role model for my soldiers.
What do you like to do for fun?
I like photography. I purchased my first camera when I was 9 years old, and since then I have liked photography.
I’m also very interested in history, and being so close to the DC museums is a great opportunity for me. And most importantly, I like exploring different cultures, so being here in America for a long period is a unique and exciting experience.
You can reach Shay at Shlichut@JewishHowardCounty.org or 410-730-4976 x122.