Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs spent a day recently in Atlanta, but it wasn’t all work. Omer Yankelevitch came to Atlanta also to visit her daughter, Yael, whom she had not seen in seven months.
Yael is one of the shinshinim, young volunteer emissaries working in Atlanta this year for The Jewish Agency for Israel. According to her mother, Yael is believed the first charedi, or ultra-Orthodox shinshinim, working for The Jewish Agency. This group of shinshinim began their service in Atlanta at the start of the school year.
“I was so proud and inspired to see all that Yael has done over the last year. Despite it being a very challenging period, Yael still managed to be incredibly impactful and effective. She taught in the Jewish day school, really became a part of the community, and volunteered with many different groups. Yael feels that she succeeded to bring Israel and a love for the Jewish people to Atlanta, and I hope that she will bring the unique feeling for world Jewry and the story of Jewish Atlanta to Israel and to continue to be an ambassador within Israel between our communities.”
“Recent statements within Israel
political discourse have undermined our ability to have an honest and genuine discourse with world Jewry”
— עומר ינקלביץ׳ omer yankelevitch (@omeryankelevitc) March 14, 2021
Perhaps Yael is following in her mother’s footsteps. Omer Yankelevitch has served as Minister of Diaspora Affairs for nearly a year, after her Blue and White Party joined a unity government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yankelevitch is touted as the first-ever charedi female cabinet minister.
“I see my role to build a stronger living bridge between Jewish communities around the world and the Israeli government and society. The Minister of Diaspora Affairs serves as the address for world Jewry within the Government of Israel,” she said.
Since she’s been in office, her focus has been “to build a more mutual conversation and relationship between Israel and Jewish communities. We do this through listening, engaging and supporting Jewish leaders, organizations and communities every day. The government is taking increasing responsibility both in ensuring the relationship between Israel and world Jewry and in strengthening the diaspora. This represents a significant paradigm shift within Israel. My current focus is in creating a formalized consultation body within the Government of Israel to ensure that the State of Israel is listening to the voices of world Jewry on matters which directly impact them.”
According to Yankelevitch, the Diaspora Ministry has a 450 million shekel (more than $100 million) budget that it invests in the diaspora, supporting Jewish formal and informal education, the Jewish peace corps and in monitoring and responding to antisemitism in Jewish communities around the world.
Although she considers her visit to Atlanta personal, it came at the beginning of an official tour of Jewish communities in the U.S. In Atlanta, she met with Eric Robbins, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. “We discussed how the community is doing during COVID, what Jewish organizations have done to help Jewish individuals, families, organizations during this challenging time, and challenges and opportunities moving forward.”
After she left Atlanta, she headed to New Jersey for meetings. Despite limitations such as the pandemic and the March 23 elections, she said she is “dedicated to using every minute and every resource available to strengthen the relationship and connect the State of Israel and world Jewry. As the world slowly opens up, I am here on the ground to show solidarity and bring the message that Israel cares. I am here to bring back stories and experiences and share them with the Government of Israel and Israeli society.”
Yankelevitch was able to take the trip to the U.S. because she decided not to run in the most recent Israeli elections, having been elected to the Knesset, or Israel’s parliament, in both the September 2019 and March 2020 elections.
“I am taking one step back to take two steps forward in the long term. While I was offered the number four position in Blue and White and the option to join other parties, I decided to take a pause and re-evaluate my next move from a position of strength. I aim to continue to advocate for women and minority communities in Israel and to continue to find ways to bring together the Jewish world. I see this as my ongoing mission, my shlichut, and purpose. Politics is just one angle in which to do this important work. I remain dedicated as ever to moving forward Israeli society and the Jewish people.”
Whatever Yankelevitch decides for her future, she seems to have made a strong connection with the Atlanta Jewish community. “Through Yael, I personally feel so connected and appreciative of the Atlanta Jewish community,” she said.
“For Atlanta’s Jewish community to connect with a young Israeli religious female and develop personal relationships, not only with Yael, but her family and network in Israel, is how we build community within the Jewish people today. Yael has made lifelong friends and connections. Atlanta’s Jewish community opened their homes and hearts to my daughter. We look forward to doing the same when members of Atlanta’s Jewish community come visit our home in Israel. This is a model for the two-way relationship that we aim to build across the Jewish world,” she added.