A family’s story of living Jewishly on three continents
Michelle Cohen, May 28, 2021
When Avital Kaszovitz prepared to be a Modern Orthodox shlicha (emissary) to the Jewish community in Kenya, she never imagined one of the first things she would do would be sending homemade challah and chicken soup to recovering COVID-19 patients.
“Hearing how appreciative they were, and feeling like I could share the taste of Shabbat with people that I hadn’t even met yet, was a really special experience for me,” said Kaszovitz, who recently began her service, along with her husband, Netanel, and their six-month-old daughter, Tzofia.
Avital, a Chicago native who graduated from Arie Crown Hebrew Day School, prepared for the family’s two-year posting through the Straus-Amiel Emissary Program at Ohr Torah Stone, a Modern Orthodox institution in Israel. To date, the program–which is committed to strengthening Jewish life and identity in communities across the Diaspora–has trained 640 couples and helped them find placements in 37 different countries as Jewish teachers, rabbis and spiritual leaders.
Netanel attended a parallel program of rabbinical training and became ordained shortly before they left to help bolster the “small, diverse, and well-rooted” Jewish community in Nairobi.
Out of various placement opportunities around the world, the Kaszovitzes chose to go to Kenya out of a sense of adventure and “an opportunity to help fill a long-vacant role in a community that was in need of new leadership to help bring it back to life,” Avital said.
As the couple studied aspects of Judaism and cultures around the world, the most important thing they learned was “how to interact with people and be open-minded enough to be able to form connections with people that come from a wide variety of backgrounds,” she said.
Since Avital and Netanel married seven years ago, they have been excited to begin their international experience together.
“We’ve always had this innate desire to be able to help Jewish communities abroad, especially after growing up in the Diaspora and understanding the complexity of what it means to be a Jew in the Diaspora,” Avital said. “We realized the importance of strengthening our Jewish identities and wanted to be there for those that are seeking that connection to their Jewish heritage” – no matter where in the world they might be.
Due to the pandemic, their departure was delayed several times, and their initial meetings with Kenyan community members took place on Zoom–when enabled the Kaszovitzes to make “a slow but steady transition into a new country and culture.”
The couple is eager for the opportunity to be “able to go out of our comfort zone in order to help achieve a greater goal with the future of the Jewish nation in mind,” Avital said.
Now newly arrived in Kenya, the family is meeting people, getting settled in their new life, and determining how best to nurture the Jewish community.
“The community here has been so warm and welcoming,” Avital said. “We still have a long way to go, but we’re off to a great start!”