When Leaving Hurts, You Know You Did Something Right

My dear Rockland, my home away home…Thank you for the best two years of my life.

I will never forget the day I arrived here: August 18, 2013. I landed in the morning and was ushered out so quickly that I exited a few moments before anyone had arrived to pick me up.  I was jet lagged and exhausted, with no cellphone or even contacts to call.  An experience not new to a migrating Jew, I was a stranger in a strange land. 

I found an international call card machine with ten dollar calling cards and quickly decided the best thing I could do was to call home to the woman who would always have an answer, my mom, and ask her what the number of my Israeli supervisor was so that I could ascertain the phone number for the Federation.  No sooner had I put my money in before the card popped out and I looked up to see Diane, with a "welcome" sign and the biggest smile I've ever seen. I think that at that moment she was more excited than I was. 

From that moment on, no longer was I a stranger in a strange land.

Rockland was now my home.  Over the course of the next two years, even when I was in Israel for the summer, even during war, even on vacations; Rockland was always in touch, YOU were always there.

Arriving here I had no phone and no contacts, and today I'm leaving with so many of them.  The calling card I purchased upon arrival?  It’s still in my wallet, brand new and un-used.  It serves for me as a constant reminder of the fact that before I could ever feel like a stranger here, I was embraced.

In the past two years Israel has gone through a war, elections, civic protest and so much more. There is always something going on in our beloved little homeland and it was my job to bring it to you with the good and the bad, with the challenges and the victories.

My Oh-So-Jewish county, I came here to touch your hearts and bring the love of Israel here, but what happened is that you have all touched MY heart and while I leave a love of Israel with you, I also take you home with me. I am leaving here humbled by the impact you all have had on me.

The thought of moving back to Israel, moving on with my life and having the title “Shlicha” as a memory is a thought too large to grasp.  Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE Israel! I miss it so bad! But creating a life here from scratch was no easy task and leaving it behind is even harder; heavy on the heart.

My lovely Rockland, how do I explain to you all what you have meant to me? …What you all still mean to me?  How can I put in words the mountain of emotions inside me and the lump in my throat that I feel every time that I think about leaving?

It is said, "a man is the sum of his experiences” and truly you all have now defined me.  I am who I am because of my two years here, I am who I am because of all you have given me, how you have treated me, how you have welcomed me into your homes.

I am who I am today because you are who you are. And so from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU ROCKLAND.

To all of you who have invited me over for dinners, lunches, snacks or even just a hug; for asking me how am I doing, for listening to me, for always smiling -- even if my speech was too long or full of grammatical mistakes -- thank you for helping me to create my life in America.

We all joke that if we put two Jews in a room we'll have four different opinions, and that may well just be true.  However, we'll also have two hearts that are as warm as four. Yes, we can argue plenty, but we are a mishpacha, a family. And you all took such good care of me, just like one.

So TODAH, thank you, for sharing your hearts and life with me, for letting me in and showing me just how amazing you all are.  My time here is composed of so many of you amazing people; from the synagogues which invited me for services and the caring presidents who insisted I share a holiday with them, to the different agencies that cared about me endlessly, and lastly to my own amazing Federation that inevitably became a home.

And the kids…oh the kids!  Almost daily it was a joy to see kids who were so excited to see me that they couldn't sit still in my class, as I worked alongside teachers and principals who made me feel like I belonged in those Hebrew schools. 

At the JCC I had the honor of working with so many age groups: the seniors who were so involved and funny, the teens who loved my cooking, the two year olds to whom I taught Hebrew songs (what a sight to behold!) and much more.

From my amazing Midreshet class (I can't believe people were actually paying to hear ME speak?!) who tackled me with the toughest questions and made me look deeper at the issues, to the groups and organizations who were so thankful for my time that their faces lit up when talking about it, I say a big thank you.

But man oh man… the Federation…my Federation.  The Idea of not walking through that long hallway, saying good morning to everyone on my way to get my first cup of coffee for the day, the idea of smiling to a different Jamie, in a different front desk with NO Keurig machine, the idea of having different staff to work with… is seriously an idea I cannot wrap my head around.

What will I do without American coffee?

And how can I forget the dear friends I made in the last two years that have turned my Shlichut from a 24/7 job to a life full of experiences and fun?

Soon a new Shaliach will be here, someone who will be as shocked as I was, as new as I was, as homesick as I am (always). And it will be on your shoulders to welcome him or her and make sure they feel the same joy that has caused me to choke up as much as I do right now while writing this all too emotional of a goodbye letter.

And so please make sure they feel at home, that they are not shy (I swear, Israelis can be shy!), that they understand you, and understand your expectations, and that they have fun on their down time.  Make sure they have friends their age, that they eat and sleep… and especially… make sure they get enough hugs (after all, Israelis hug like...every other minute. We're used to it.).

Thanks to my amazing host moms, Melinda and Harriet, my life has been truly blessed and better here, and I hope you will all join in for the next ride like you did with me, and be a part of the host families system with or without the title.

I was the first community Shlicha in the Jewish Federation of Rockland County; I only started something that could be bigger and better. Please help us to make the Shaliach project a huge success and part of the heart of the community.  Don’t hesitate to take the first step, ask them what they can do for your agency, and make sure they are invited to all the right functions. Ask them what they want to do for you.

Let's keep making Israel part of our life in every step we take. Let's remember the values of the sons and daughters of Israel and be reminded as often as possible that the state of Israel is not just a physical location but an idea, a dream, an internal compass for a thriving Jewish nation.

Rockland, you are now a HUGE part of my heart, and I hope that I have engrained myself in the hearts of you.

The Israeli author Sh”y Agnon wrote “תם ולא נשלם” (done but not complete/over). This is how I’m leaving today. My Shlichut is done, but my journey and connection to Rockland County is not complete. I am always around and even thousands of miles away will always be here for you. That applies whether it be for questions, for chats, for meeting up, or for anything else.  If you are EVER in Israel, even fifteen years from now, please let me know. I can promise you I'll make time to see you and show you around (though you must bring a cool flower for my hair; the coolest ones are in the US).

My personal Facebook is: Timna Mek

And my personal E-mail is: timna.mekaiten@gmail.com

PLEASE use it. Please be in touch. I need you in my life.

Now that I’m returning to Israel I hope to use that international call card ASAP.  It is so hard to be a part of a community’s life for two years and then just walk away and let go.  I wish you all a great summer, a not-so-bad winter, and may success and willpower lead you as far as your dreams may go.

Keep growing, learning, smiling and supporting. Keep in touch. Be happy.  And remember that just as I got off a plane to arrive here and soon found a home, so too will all of you have a home when you step off the plane to the land of Israel.

In Hebrew we say "להתראות", L’hitraot when we have intentions of meeting again and I do.

So for the last time I’ll ever call you that -- MY dear Rockland -- L’hitraot.

This is Timna Mekaiten, the Israeli Shlicha for the Jewish Federation of Rockland County, signing out.

Live long and prosper, and may the force be with you.


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