Sharing culture

Sharing culture

Israeli native spending year with Jewish Federation

November 8th, 2011 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

Raoul Molnar talks to a group of middle-schoolers during an enrichment class at the Mizpah Congregation in downtown Chattanooga.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Q: What is a shaliach?

A: The free translation of a shaliach is kind of an emissary. With emissary, people think immediately about government. But I'm not a representative of the Israeli government. ... As a shaliach, I'm coming over here kind of like a cultural emissary. I'm coming over here to talk a lot about Jewish culture, about Israeli culture, about having a lot of connections between the community of Jews in Israel and the community of Jews over here and [to] try to make a bridge between those two communities.

Q: Is being comfortable with people an asset to do what you do?

A: I am very outgoing. I love to meet new people. I love having ... small talks. [Being a shaliach is] also an experience for me because I'm also learning over here a lot of other different cultures. For one part of it, I am coming over here to do a lot of stuff and to bring a lot of stuff from Israel, but for sure I'm coming over here for learning, to take stuff from here back. ... I really enjoy this.

Q: What do people in the United States not know, or have a misconception of, about Israel?

A: First of all, Israel is a safe country. That's the first thing I want people to understand. It's a safe and a beautiful country [in which] everybody can come over and learn. I want to show how much stuff there is in Israel. Because you have a lot of [connections] to all religions. ... Also, Israel might be a very, very small country, but there is so much in this one small country. We have in one part [a] desert and in the other we have ... mountains.

Q: How do you view the political situation in Israel?

A: There is [politics] just like any country. ... We have also the internal issues just like you have in the States. ... For example, we have the middle-class issues. And we have the economy issues. ... And we have the Middle East subject. Now the Middle East subject is a sad part, and there's nobody in Israel that won't say it's a sad part. Because it's hard. We have troubles, some will have conflicts, and we have words with some of the countries that surround us. For now, we have, with the Palestinians, a conflict, which I hope and most of Israel will hope to solve. ... [The Palestinians are] having tough times, but I can tell you in Israel we're having a tough time as well. I can tell you for myself it's not fun coming to school and discovering that two of your classmates died in a terrorist attack. It's not fun coming back from the basketball court, back to home, and hearing a huge boom, and getting to home [to] see what happened. ... [The two sides] should talk.

On Raoul Molnar's first trip to the United States a couple of years ago, acquaintances in New Jersey thought the main method of transportation in his native Israel was camels.

While he hasn't encountered a similar cultural vacuum since arriving in Chattanooga seven weeks ago, he's here to share his thoughts on the similarities and differences in the two countries.

Molnar will spend the next year as a shaliach (shal-i-ock) -- or cultural emissary -- with the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga. While this is the federation's first year to employ a shaliach, many cities have had one for years.

During his year here, Molnar said, he hopes to talk to a variety of Jewish groups, civic groups, school groups and other parties that might be interested.

"I like to talk," Molnar said, "so you get out."

He's already made an impression on groups at the Jewish Cultural Center with programs involving dancing, singing, the Hebrew language, the recent release of prisoner Gilad Shalit and the statesmanship of assassinated Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Molnar, who has completed a mandatory three-year stint in the Israeli army and has a year at Kinneret College in Israel under his belt, found he enjoyed sharing his native culture while he was a camp counselor in New Jersey.

"I didn't know if I would love the culture over here or if I [wouldn't] love the culture," Molnar said, "but I did."

He said he's still having to get used to some things -- "like the driving" or the use of sheets and blankets instead of a single duvet or the use of running faucets while washing dishes -- but doesn't believe there's a lot of difference between the countries.