When Amit Yaniv-Zehavi led a recent Jewish Federation staff trip to Israel in March, she scheduled a stop at Kibbutz Tzora.
“We were on kibbutz and in my own house, the place where I will be sitting in three months and drinking coffee,” she said.
Yaniv-Zehavi, her husband Doron and their children Yonatan, Daniel and Neta are returning to Israel in July, after three years serving as Milwaukee’s community shaliach for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Israel Center.
She is 16th in an unbroken line of Jewish community shlichim to Milwaukee stretching back 50 years, the longest continuously-running program of its kind in the United States. An event celebrating that golden anniversary and Yaniv-Zehavi will be held from 4-6 p.m. June 25 at Congregation Sinai, 8223 N. Port Washington Road, Fox Point.
“Milwaukee is a special community in its Zionist tendency that it’s supported this program for 50 years, because every year there’s that discussion about allocations,” she said. “It’s an expensive program, and I don’t think any other community in North America can boast that it’s had this program for 50 years straight.”
Rabbi Hannah Greenstein, vice president of Outreach, Israel and Overseas, concurred.
“The (shlichim) are Federation staff members, so their office is here and is paid for by the annual campaign; a lot of people don’t realize that,” she said. “Our single biggest expense is the Israel Center.”
In addition to the community shaliach, the Center brings shin-shinim, teens who work with the Jewish Community Center, Milwaukee Jewish Day School and synagogue schools, and the campus fellow from the Jewish Agency for Israel, who works with local colleges and students.
For Yaniv-Zehavi, the three years passed at just the right tempo.
“I felt all those months and those years in a good way,” she said. That included a chance to draw on her bilingual skills – she spent time in the US growing up – and to do more with some of her other abilities.
“I got to write here and do some art workshops. I did film talkbacks and lectures, and that kind of stuff I liked,” she said. “I liked that I could bring a personal side of Israel, and to become connected with people in the community was actually part of my job. That was very fun for me.”
Yaniv-Zehavi’s family also connected with Milwaukee. Her husband Doron did songleading, made the Yom HaAtzamut meal at the Milwaukee Jewish Day School and was an Uber driver for a while. Her older son Yonatan, who learned to drive here, is graduating from Nicolet High School and got involved in school theater and music groups. Daniel, 15, went through middle school here and Neta, who spoke no English when she arrived three years ago, is fully bilingual and looking forward to attending the Steve & Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River. The boys and their father also made it to Lambeau Field for a Packers game.
Asked to name three highlights of her tenure, Yaniv-Zehavi chose a 2016 event in which groups of three or four Israelis and Partnership2Gether Steering Committee members were treated to tours of “my Milwaukee” featuring ethnic neighborhoods, food, architecture, music and more; a “Beer, Cheese and Chocolate Delegation” that brought Wisconsin and Israeli brewing and dairy professionals together; and a film that will be screened at the Farewell and 50th event.
Featuring Yaniv-Zehavi, Keren Weisshaus, her successor and eight former shlichim, the film is part “Where are they now?” and an homage to the community that has continuously maintained a living connection with Israel for half a century.
It’s a connection she knows she and others will maintain.
“I think of myself like a book from the library that was lent, and it’s time to give the book back,” she said. “People come to Israel, they’ll come to visit us; they’ll stay in touch. That’s comforting.”
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How to go:
What: Farewell to Zehavis, 50 years of Shlichut celebration
When: 4-6 p.m. June 25
Where: Congregation Sinai, 8223 N. Port Washington Road in Fox Point
How much: Free but RSVP required by June 16 at MilwaukeeJewish.org/Shlichut or contact Allison Hayden at 414-390-5724 or AllisonH@MilwaukeeJewish.org