Diaspora Jews, Israel waits for the day when you will come home - opinion

Decades after the end of World War II and the creation of Israel – two penultimate events in our people’s modern history – the Jewish community continues to struggle with assimilation.

 LEFT TO right: Rabbi Chaim Touito, Shir Touito and their children with their parents, Rebbetzin Simi Touito and Rabbi Daniel Touito, and Straus-Amiel representative Aviad Pituchei-Chotam pose for a photo at Ben-Gurion Airport, as the family leaves for their ‘shlichut’ in Guatemala. (photo credit: OHR TORAH STONE)
LEFT TO right: Rabbi Chaim Touito, Shir Touito and their children with their parents, Rebbetzin Simi Touito and Rabbi Daniel Touito, and Straus-Amiel representative Aviad Pituchei-Chotam pose for a photo at Ben-Gurion Airport, as the family leaves for their ‘shlichut’ in Guatemala.
(photo credit: OHR TORAH STONE)

As a former shaliach (emissary) to the Jewish Diaspora on behalf of the state and people of Israel, I am filled with a sense of immense pride in my son, who has recently traveled abroad in a very similar capacity. Yet, along with that pride comes some concern, even sadness, and I welcome the chance to explain why.

The experience of a child traveling across the world under any circumstance is complex from a logistical and emotional perspective. Add to that the fact that our son, Chaim, is leaving his homeland, traveling to Guatemala along with his wife Shir and our two grandchildren, and the emotions become even more complex. Guatemala is not only far away geographically, it is also worlds away culturally from what we are used to.

But as we watched them pack up and leave, we remembered that this is by no means any typical professional relocation, and the motivations and meaning behind this move help us overcome our worry and replace the sense of loss with feelings of pride. In fact, I firmly believe that there are few greater sources of personal and paternal satisfaction than when a young family chooses to pick up from their lives of relative comfort, convenience and familiarity here in Israel and use their talents, passions and experiences to help a distant Jewish community.

American Jews marching in New York with Israeli flags. How can we bridge the divide between Israel and the Diaspora? (credit: REUTERS)American Jews marching in New York with Israeli flags. How can we bridge the divide between Israel and the Diaspora? (credit: REUTERS)

We are forced to acknowledge that the state of Diaspora Jewry is far from ideal.

Decades after the end of World War II and the creation of Israel – two penultimate events in our people’s modern history – the Jewish community continues to struggle with assimilation. Despite remarkable achievements in recent centuries, such as the rise of Zionism, Hassidism and other forms of Jewish expression, many Jews struggle to stand out and differentiate themselves from the cultures that surround them, ultimately resulting in assimilation and the loss of Jewish peoplehood and culture.

My son was born in Israel but spent many of his formative early years in Argentina and Brazil where we served as emissaries. It is for that reason that I know that the task of raising proud Israeli and Hebrew-speaking children in foreign countries is so deeply challenging. That reality makes me even more proud of his and Shir’s decision.

Now that he has grown up and started his own family, he certainly could have taken an easier way out, particularly knowing the obstacles his parents faced while raising him abroad. But instead, he and Shir have chosen to heed the call of the Diaspora, a call for rabbis and teachers who can come to these small communities and inspire people to grow closer to their nation, their heritage and their religion.

To Chaim, Shir and the children, from here in Israel we all wish you the very best of luck and with God’s blessing that you should only succeed.

Of course, never forget where you came from. If you feel alone or lost, you and all your fellow emissaries across the globe can always look back to Israel for inspiration and encouragement, and remember that your sacrifices and your work are critical to helping light up the lives of the Jewish people. We await your return and pray for the day when they, too, will come home to Israel.

The writer, the former chief rabbi of Venice, Italy, and his wife, Rebbetzin Simi Touito, former principal of the Venice Talmud Torah, graduated the very first class of OTS’s Straus-Amiel Emissary Training Program, now celebrating its 25th year. Their son, Chaim, and daughter-in-law, Shir, completed the same training program in June and have just embarked upon their emissary work in Guatemala City, Guatemala.