Community Shaliach (Israeli Emissary) Yair Cohen and his family have just finished their three years in Cincinnati. Yair sent this farewell letter to the community:
For Shani and me, coming to Cincinnati was arriving to the “unknown.” When we were told that we were chosen by Cincinnati community to serve in the shaliach position, the first thing we did was to open Google maps and look and see where this strange-sounding city was located.
Three years later I’m a Cincinnatian! The community welcomed us from Day 1. I even remember the egg salad and bagels that were waiting for us in the fridge to be sure we wouldn’t go hungry—of course, I did not know then that this was only the beginning of three years’ worth of eating the iconic Marx Hot Bagels.
It is not easy for me to reflect on these past three years and to then consider what our stay in Cincinnati has done for us. However, it is far easier to reflect on my experiences here.
I experienced the community’s rich religious Jewish diversity—the birthplace of the institutional Reform movement and the home of Plum Street Temple and other extraordinary Reform temples, alongside a committed Modern Orthodox community and a community Kollel. I experienced a strong historical Conservative community and a Humanistic congregation that is possibly the only one of its kind. One community and so many ways and colors for one to express his or her religious feelings.
I experienced the community’s organized institutions—from the incredible social services provided for the more vulnerable populations that Jewish Family Service cares for, to an active Jewish neighborhood housed at the Mayerson JCC. I also experienced the incredible American Jewish Archives, learning about the Jewish history of America and Cincinnati. I listened to Federation leaders and professionals determine innovative initiatives that would ensure a vibrant Jewish future while strategizing on ways to attract and retain more members of our Jewish community.
From strategic investments of the Jewish Foundation to the work of National Zionist organizations with local chapters of the Jewish National Fund, Hadassah, and Na’amat, I learned so much about our community’s commitment. From advocacy and relationships with the JCRC, to the collaborative work of the AJC, I learned how much members of this community care for the people of Israel. From rabbinic studies at HUC, to Jewish studies at UC, I recognized how young people desire to learn about their Judaism. From Jewish day schools such as Rockwern and CHDS, to the Early Childhood School at the JCC, to congregational schools, to the Klau Library, to the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, I saw that this was a learning community. I experienced the community’s voluntary and giving spirit—lay leaders, volunteers, committees and subcommittees, chairs and co-chairs. Think tanks and surveys, thinking and planning, dreaming and doing—investing time, energy, thought, passion, and private dollars to ensure a rich Jewish life, and all out of a sole sense of responsibility and commitment.
I experienced the community’s people—happy, calm, positive, and looking forward. Open to dialogue, to out-of-the-box thinking, to rethinking, always being trusting, always listening and engaging. Welcoming, caring, and loving, this is what I observed.
I experienced the community’s commitment and love for Israel—the endless traveling to Israel of synagogues, agencies, the one-of-a-kind Israel travel grant program of the Jewish Foundation. The number of individual and private trips families made to Israel and the remarkable number of individuals choosing to make aliyah.
I witnessed the pain and concern for Israel and Israelis when they are under attack and the constant Israel education wherever I went.
The numerous Israeli groups arriving to Cincinnati from our partnership city, Netanya, and who were then hosted by community families willing to open their doors to these strangers who quickly became lifelong friends. Programs, events and productions, films, memorial services and independence celebrations, lectures, and art aimed to experience contemporary Israel. Brave discussions and decisions about what is important for Israel and what is the community’s relationship with Israel.
My family and I have experienced a new way of life that we were not aware of—we experienced memories that have shaped us and opened our eyes. We experienced three years in Cincinnati that will stay with us forever—“a home away from home.”
We—Shani, Ma’ayan, Stav, and myself—simply want to say, from the bottom of our hearts: Todah Rabah!