Coming to America
Shlicha to Ben Porat Yosef talks about why her family is making the three-year move
Abigail Klein Leichman 4/08/2021
Ben Porat Yosef, a yeshiva day school in Paramus, puts a premium on Hebrew-language immersion from the earliest grades. Every year, educational “shlichim” – emissaries — from Israel help BPY create a Hebrew-saturated linguistic and cultural environment for BPY’s preschool to eighth-grade students.
This fall, BPY will welcome the Dahans — Chana Moria, 32, and Netanel, 35. The couple plans to live in Teaneck with their daughters: Roni, 11, Yaela, 9, Ma’ayan Chaya, 4, and Shuvi Shlomit, 16 months.
The Dahans are among 22 religious Zionist couples who recently completed an emissary training in preparation for a few years of communal and educational service in Jewish communities, campuses, and congregations around the world.
The course they took is given by the Straus-Amiel Institute of Ohr Torah Stone, the Israel-based international modern Orthodox movement headed by Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, who made aliyah from Teaneck. OTS offers a range of programs aiming to develop Jewish life, learning, and leadership.
Ms. Dahan has a notable background. She is the daughter of Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich, one of the most famous refuseniks from the former Soviet Union. In the 1960s, Rabbi Mendelevich organized underground Jewish education. When he was 22, he was arrested for his role in the attempted hijacking of a plane to raise awareness about the desperate plight of Soviet Jews. Imprisoned for 12 years, he finally fulfilled his dream of aliyah in 1981, married, and raised a family in Jerusalem.
Following is a Q&A with Ms. Dahan, translated from Hebrew by this correspondent.
Abigail Klein Leichman: Why did you want to be shlichim?
Chana Moria Dahan: From the time Netanel and I met, it was clear to us that we wanted to live in a way that is out of the ordinary. We’ve always strived to look outward at the Jewish people.
When Netanel was discharged from his army service, we went to live in a boarding school for children taken from their homes by the welfare authorities. These children lived in small groups in a house with a married couple who raised them, cared for all their needs, and tried to give them a sense of home. Here we raised 13 sweet children over the course of about four years.
After that, we partnered in establishing a “garin Torani” [That’s a group of religious Zionist families who settle in secular communities and offer educational and social programs.]
In recent years we have lived in Jerusalem and tried to understand what the next step is in our lives as a family. Before the pandemic, my father flew a lot across the world, meeting Jews and getting acquainted with their communities. When he returned to Israel, he would tell us about these encounters.
His stories reminded us – especially Netanel – that we used to dream of being emissaries. We understood how little we knew about diaspora Jewry, and how much we’d been living in a bubble. We felt that to complete our identity we had to get to know our people better, and that the connection between Israeli Jews and Jews outside the Land of Israel is important and meaningful.
We feel we have something to offer as teachers and as human beings. We believe we will receive much in return and that this mission will help us blossom.
AKL: What will you be doing at Ben Porat Yosef?
CMD: We will teach Hebrew and Judaic studies — I will teach first grade and Netanel will teach fourth grade. Together with the other shlichim at BPY, we will create events according to the Jewish calendar year that aim to bring the spirit of the Land of Israel to the students.
AKL: Were you ever in the United States before?
CMD: Never, but with all the stories that we’ve heard in the past few years and the many hours spent looking at Google Maps, we feel we were almost there!
AKL: How did your father’s experiences influence you?
CMD: My father’s story is a significant force in my whole life. I adore my Abba. He and my Ema taught me always to look at what those around me need, not what I need. They always encouraged me and my brother to understand what is important to the people of Israel and to be active.
AKL: How does your father feel about your upcoming mission?
CMD: My father is very proud that I am getting out of my comfort zone for things I believe in. He feels that I am continuing in his path. He fought hard to reach the Land of Israel. And I am taking a meaningful step in order to maintain the connection of Jews abroad to the Land.
He thinks it is right for his family members to experience life in the diaspora, to broaden our horizons and better appreciate the privilege of living in the Land of Israel.
AKL: How do your daughters feel about it?
CMD: The older ones are very, very excited. They’re in love with the idea of moving to another country. Yaela wrote us a letter last week that said, “Thank you for doing things that make us a special family that does important things.” Ma’ayan is only 4, and she’s excited to live in America but is nervous about the new kindergarten.
AKL: What are your expectations of life in Bergen County?
CMD: I hope to meet many new people. I am excited to see how these relationships will influence me and how I might influence them and their children. I hope to be an active part of the community and create opportunities where I can bring some of the taste of the Land of Israel to the community.
I know that the period of adjustment to life in another country and a culture with which we are not familiar will be challenging for us as a family. But I am very excited about meeting my students and their families and about the experience of living in another country.
AKL: What will come next, after your time in Paramus?
CMD: We are building a house in Carmel, in the South Hebron Hills. This is where we plan to live when we return from New Jersey in three years.