Morah Tali and Moreh Eilon on Their Motivations for Becoming Shlichim
Growing up, Morah Tali Dan witnessed the reciprocal effects shlichim (Israeli emissaries) and American communities can have on each other first hand: As a child, she accompanied her parents on two stints of shlichut. Morah Tali explained that she wanted that experience as a shlicha for herself and her children, which is why she and Moreh Amir spent seven years in Denver shortly after their marriage — “the seven good years,” she called them — and then returned to the United States four years ago to teach in Atlanta, this time with older children in tow.
“It was amazing to be able to integrate and to become part of a community,” Morah Tali said, describing shlichut. “You don’t just visit. On the one hand, it’s temporary so you bring full force into it. On the other hand, you’re part of the community [and] you become just like everybody else… [The community] become[s] your family.” She joked that at this point, after her parents’ five tours of duty and her own two, “[shlichut] is the family business.”
Moreh Eilon Kapach, a first-time shaliach shared different motivations. He expressed a desire to learn more about the Jews who live outside of Israel, as opposed to just hearing stories or running into tourists in Jerusalem. One major idea Moreh Eilon learned from being a shaliach in America came from a misconception he had: In Israel, he thought that “all the Jews have to come to Israel, and how can you be a good Jew if you live outside of Israel?” Living here, he now understands “it is complicated.” From his experiences, he can relate to the struggle of adapting to a new and different culture, like Americans who make aliyah (move to Israel) have to. Moreh Eilon explained, “When I lived in Israel, I said, ‘What’s the problem? Come to Israel, live in Israel.’ But to do it, it’s very hard.”
Moreh Eilon added that as teachers, he and his wife relished the opportunity to teach Hebrew and about Israel, noting that it was a different challenge than he had previously faced.
On the downside, Moreh Eilon acknowledged that he has had difficulties adapting to American culture. He said that Israelis speak more bluntly and don’t have a taboo on discussing subjects seen as private in America, such as money. This societal divide extends all the way to the manner in which young children act when having fun. Moreh Eilon told of his discomfort when he takes his children to the park: “When they [are] happy,” he shared, “they laugh aloud and make noise.” In Israel, he said “everyone [is] like this, so we feel comfortable… Here, I always have to ask them, ‘Hey, be quiet.’”
From her childhood experiences, Morah Tali didn’t have to face these challenges. “I understand Americanism, not just English,” she claimed, demonstrating a proficiency in “cheerleaders and pompoms” she acquired from attending public schools in American cities where Jewish schools weren’t available. (AJA High School features neither cheerleaders nor pompoms.)
Moreh Eilon acknowledged that he has had difficulties adapting to American culture. He said that Israelis speak more bluntly and don’t have a taboo on discussing subjects seen as private in America, such as money.
Both times they came to America as adults, the Dans chose to take a role in education despite neither formally possessing any teaching background. “We feel that there’s something in education that holds on and carries on to future generations,” Morah Tali said. She described the relationships she has with students from Denver who, years later, would visit for Shabbat, and even bring boyfriends or girlfriends for their “opinion.” She called such a dynamic “priceless.”
Morah Tali explained that while there is a “beauty” to teaching young children, introducing them to the “aleph-bet” for the first time, she “love[s] being in high school.” She said her experience as an outsider in America “defined very clearly to me who I am,” and she enjoys being able to discuss those weighty matters of identity with high school students. “I love having those in-depth conversations of ‘Who am I, what does my Judaism mean to me? What is my relationship with Hashem and how do I take it forward practically into my life?’” Morah Tali said. “If, in any way, I’m able to connect young Jewish people to what it means to be Jewish in a positive, growing, practical way — even one — I’ve done my [duty].”
This sense of duty strongly contributed to Morah Tali’s desire to return as a shlicha — and even her work as a conduit between the Dallas community and the Jewish Agency while she lived in Israel. Invoking the principle of “kol yisrael areivim zeh la’zeh” (all Jews are responsible for each other), she described, “If I want Jewish people to keep feeling connected and to have that spark, that love for Judaism, and to feel connected to the Jewish people and to the Jewish State, we all have to do our part.” She was not content to sit in Israel and wonder why Jews living outside Israel no longer feel as strong a connection, which led to the decision to come back to America.
Both Morah Tali and Moreh Eilon expressed their appreciation to the Atlanta community for taking them in. Moreh Eilon said that just before COVID-19 began, his family had moved more into the community to be able to invite families and students for meals, and he hopes to fulfill those aims in the future.
“If, in any way, I’m able to connect young Jewish people to what it means to be Jewish in a positive, growing, practical way — even one — I’ve done my [duty].”Morah Tali Dan
Although unsure if they would return to Israel after this year as planned or extend their stay another year because of COVID-19, Morah Tali looks forward to AJA students calling her in the future when they return to Israel, just like her past students. She said, “I’m looking forward to these lifelong relationships, to creating those bridges that will be a forever bridge.”