Liat Lisha is here for a limited time only. But she has big plans. The Israeli shlicha, or emissary, 23, for the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia wants to close the gender gap in tech and connect bereaved military families across the globe, all in addition to her day job, which she started in August.
What does your shlicha work at the JCC of Northern Virginia entail?
I’m going out to the synagogues in the area, meeting people and trying to listen to their needs. Then I make programs that have to do with those needs. I’m having people come to the JCC and hear and learn about Israel. It’s a curriculum that has to do with tech, politics, media in Israel, the conflict, etc.
How did you land in Fairfax?
I had interviews with five communities [to be a shlicha], but this is the only one I wanted to come to because I wanted to be close to a big city. I also like the fact that most people here are well-educated and have high expectations for [the programming] they’re going to get. And also, I’m mainly working with adults, which I like. Even if they’re just 17 years old, I can have meaningful dialogues with them. I just had a strong intuition about this community. I thought I was going to love it and apparently I was right.
Outside of your day-to-day at the JCC of Northern Virginia, what are you hoping to accomplish during your stay?
Before coming here, I used to work for IBM in Tel Aviv. I got involved with this organization called She Codes, where the goal is to close the gap between females and males in the programming and tech world. They run weekly, free tech classes that women can attend.
I want to take this concept and bring it to the Northern Virginia [Jewish] community. The program I’m working on would be over eight sessions, in Tyson’s Corner or Arlington, and it would expose young women to coding. It’ll use online tutorials but I’ll be there to guide. Every meeting, we’ll have someone Israeli to come and speak, so it also fulfills my goals as a shlicha to bring Israel to the [Jewish] community.
I want people to understand that coding is not as hard as it seems. Coding is pretty easy, you just have to commit.
Can you explain your project surrounding military families?
Memorial Day in Israel is a very sad day, which is different than how it’s observed here. When I first came here [at age 15], I realized this is just one of those big cultural differences between Israelis and Americans. People here say “Happy Memorial Day,” but it’s such a somber day in Israel.
What I want to do is get family members [of deceased soldiers] in the area here and bereaved family members in Israel and to have them meet over the internet. And we’ll make a movie out of them meeting and telling their stories of how they grieved.
What are some of the other big cultural differences you’ve encountered?
Americans are more politically correct, Israelis sort of say whatever they want. That’s a generalization but, for instance, when talking about politics, In Israel we talk about politics with everybody. It’s such an open thing. I remember during the last [Israeli] election, I’d be at a bar with friends basically getting people to sit down so we could convince them of who to vote for. It’s open and you say your opinions. Here, it’s not like that.
How do you navigate talking about sensitive issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Americans?
The first time I came to the States, I took part in a project called Seeds of Peace. It’s a summer camp in Maine and they bring together Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians and American teenagers to discuss the conflict and also to make friends. You fight and you scream and then a couple of hours later, after lunch, you have group activities like canoeing or something else, and the point is you make friends.
I try to use this experience to show that the other side is not really the other side. They grew up with a certain narrative that they believe in, just like as an Israeli I have a narrative that I believe in as true.
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