Small town North American Jews seek direct contact with Israelis

Many of those discussing their experience also requested from the Diaspora Ministry to send Israeli emissaries to these areas.

A Hanukkah menorah. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A Hanukkah menorah.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
At a global Hanukkah candle lighting event held by the Ruderman Family Foundation, discussions on the experience of small town North American Jews emphasized the need to connect more with Israelis, according to a Thursday press release from the foundation.
The event, held in conjunction with the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and the Israeli Diaspora Affairs Ministry, saw the participation of many Jews from small communities in the United States and Canada, providing them an opportunity to meet other Jews from around the world, ranging from Israel and many other countries. 
The focus of the event was done as a token of appreciation to smaller Jewish communities for their support of Israel and efforts to retain their identities through celebrating Jewish holidays despite the distance from most communal institutions such as synagogues. Small communities from places like Alaska, rural Texas, South Carolina, and rural Virginia all participated in the event, where they shared personal Hanukkah stories and discussed life as a Jew in small town. 
Many of those discussing their experience also requested from the Diaspora Ministry to send Israeli emissaries to these areas. 
Debbie Grashin, who hails from Alaska, spoke of the fact that she lives thousands of miles away from any semblance of Jewish life.
“In my heart, I would love to see more education, not only about Judaism but about Israel as a country. Not only to Jews, but to everyone. I would like to hear from groundbreaking scientists and Start-Up companies which showcase Israel," Grashin said
“Our small community would benefit from a shaliach from Israel to connect with our community. I am worried for our impressionable Jewish students that will be entering university, where without a strong background in Judaism and Jewish history, the influences they will face have the potential to turn them off from our heritage. By reaching and teaching them sooner, it will be better for us all,” she added. 
Another participant, Michael Gillette from Lynchburg, Virginia, spoke of his desire to connect more with Israelis.
"We would love the opportunity to meet informally with average Israelis so that we might learn from them what life in Israel really is like day-to-day, to gain their perspective on important issues, and to feel more connected to Israeli culture,” Gillette noted. 
He proposed video calls between Israelis and Jews from small communities as a means for connecting, while also arguing that Israel needs to do more to make Diaspora Jews feel more respected, making specific mention of the Israeli government's decision to freeze an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. 
Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch spoke of her mission to connect to smaller Jewish communities, saying “Since entering office, one of my primary missions has been reaching out to the smaller Jewish communities across the world and finding new ways to connect with them. Each community is important and adds its own unique beauty to create the mosaic of the Jewish people.
“Throughout history we proved, time and time again, that when the Jewish people are united and driven by a shared purpose, we prevail. This year has been difficult for everyone and we have sometimes felt like we are in the dark, but if we come together, each person and community with their own unique light and support for one another in true solidarity, we will overcome…Thank you for this unique opportunity to celebrate Hanukkah,” she concluded.