My name is Omer Shabat and I’m the Israeli Shaliach (Israeli emissary) in Nashville.
I came to Nashville almost six months ago. After little time here I wanted to share with you my story about why I decided to take this position and move to the United States.
It all started in 2013. I moved to Jezreel valley from the city of Yokneam and found out that my school participates in a program that sends Israeli teenagers to a summer camp together with American teenagers. As soon as I heard about it, I really wanted to go there and tried to be accepted. After some interviews, they informed me that I didn’t pass, and I was really, really upset, but I said that it was not important, and I forgot about it over the years.
In high school I studied physics, computer science and music and in the 11th grade I had a prolonged medical case that forced me to miss a lot of my studies. I entered a challenging period in my life. At that moment I realized that I had to do everything possible to be able to continue my courses and manage to finish school.
I knew that I couldn't be in a combat unit in the army because of my medical situation, so I immediately started thinking about where I wanted to go. That's where the idea of going for a year of service before the army was born. I knew I wanted to give of myself to others and I told myself there was no better time than now to do it.
When I was 17 years old, I applied for the year of service at the Jewish Agency. I very quickly received a negative answer. Despite the rejection, I choose to do service in the youth movement. I wanted the opportunity to give back to the organization that had been my home during that time, and that gave me so much.
After the year of service, I joined the army with Gerin Nahal, which is a very different path from many people. It is a path that provides the opportunity for everyone who has done years of service to join the army together as a group. We spent a year and eight months together in different positions, and another year of living together. The job was to guide and accompany youth through the recruitment process.
I served in the Education and Youth unit. The goal is to give the populations of the Israeli society the tools so that they can do the meaningful service helping at-risk youth, Olim Hadashim (new immigrants), and others with special needs. During my service, I met soldiers from over 50 different countries. Everyone came to Israel for various reasons. Some came because they are Zionists, some have family in Israel, and some come from difficult personal situations. I learned to hear different stories about what made them take such a significant step and leave everything they know behind for a few years to actively contribute to the country. I didn't always understand their challenges, but I tried to help in the best way possible.
When I was released during the end of the Covid pandemic, I went straight to work as a director of the youth movement where I grew up. I managed the Jezreel Valley and the Gilboa area and had under me 2,000 youths, instructors, graduate instructors and front teams of each locality and the work was 24/7 around education about Zionism, love of the land, tolerance, equality, and equality of human value.
I accompanied groups with overnight stays during every holiday/vacation from school, which includes all the Jewish holidays and the big vacation that happens in July and August. Each trip was 4-10 days and there were 800-1500 students in total, and I was sometimes responsible for 300-100.
After almost two years at work, I told myself that I wanted to try to do something different, with an even bigger impact and then I started looking. I had to decide if I would continue doing service, look for another job, or if this was my time to begin the University.
One day, I was driving to a work meeting, and a radio advertisement popped up for the shaliach position. I didn't understand what it meant but it sounded cool so I said to myself let's see what could happen.
I passed all the interviews, and because of my background, I was asked to start in Cape Town South Africa, to manage the youth movement and the camp there. I knew I wanted to go in this direction, but I thought to myself that maybe I wanted a change from the atmosphere of a youth movement. I wanted to bring the things I learned there to a different type of environment. After a few conversations, it was decided that I would have an interview at the Jewish community in Nashville. And there it happened.
As soon as I heard about the community something immediately attracted me. Without knowing much, I started planning and building to come up with many ideas.
The whole process from how I started until the placement was so fast and I was so busy with my previous job that I couldn't spare the time to even think about it, which really helped me pass the four months until I had to leave.
Today, I've been the Nashville shaliach for six months. Six months I've been living in a country where I don't speak the language well, the culture is different, people think differently with a completely different life path than I know, different ways of working and everyone I've ever known in my life is on the other side of the earth and eight hours apart. And it's hard. It's hard to get through the Sabbaths without remembering the family meals, the holidays, the birthdays
that give reasons to meet friends or just pick up the phone to call a friend I haven't talked to in a long time. Now I needed to find new things that would fill me up and other people who would give me that feeling of belonging.
Today I'm beginning to understand a little of what happened to those I accompanied who left everything and came to contribute to the state even though they really didn't have to but felt obligated. And for it to be good, you just have to decide that you are doing good!
I have no doubt that the process here is still long. But I want to say a huge thank you for accepting me. Receiving the warmth and love from all of you gives me the strength to stay here longer.
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