Amir Yarchi's arrival last month as the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati's new shaliach, a cultural ambassador from Israel, was overshadowed by the month-long Israeli-Lebanese war.
Yarchi, who serves as the federation's Israeli representative for the next three years, had to shift his attention from his role as a representative in the community for education, culture and information to dealing with questions about the conflict.
"I've been speaking at a few places around town telling personal stories and giving updates with the news, etc.," he says at his Sharonville office. "My area is education and culture, and that doesn't go well with war."
Yarchi, who used to work as a spokesman for the Jewish Agency for Israel, has changed career paths. Even with a master's degree in communication, he decided, he doesn't want to act as a spokesman or work in the news media; he wants to invest himself in other ways.
Yarchi works as a channel between Israel and Greater Cincinnati, sharing information about Israel with the general public, coordinating educational programs and offering information about study, travel and volunteer opportunities in Israel.
"There are programs that have already been successful, and I'm going to continue that," he says. "This community has an impressive history of shlichim (cultural ambassadors). There has always been a shaliach in Cincinnati, and it's one of the first Jewish communities in the U.S. to have a shaliach.
They've had one since the mid-'70s."
Yarchi will coordinate the annual Israeli Film Festival in February. This year films were shown at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and at the Esquire in Clifton. Yarchi says the Jewish Federation wants to expand the festival and other programs.
"They want to make them as big as possible, a bigger audience, with variety and a dialogue where people understand that we're Jews and the state of Israel," he says. "We have one state, and it's a major component in our identity. That's why we care so much for the state of Israel, and it's a unique thing you won't find it in any other religion."
Yarchi is looking ahead to organizing educational programs in schools for Jews and non-Jews. He also plans to work with the Hillel Jewish Student Center and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Recently Hillel's director, Rabbi Abe Ingber, and Andy Hajjar, co-owner of Andy's Mediterranean Grille, sponsored a benefit to aid war-zone hospitals on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border (see "United for the Suffering," issue of Aug. 9). That kind of collaboration is a step in the right direction, according to Yarchi.
"We have the ability to expand the relationship between our community and the Christian and Muslims' communities," he says. "We try to advocate about Israel, and I want to get into public schools and churches. Israel is a special place, and I'm going to speak to anyone who wants to hear or is interested. I'm not going to force myself on anyone."
Still finding his away around the city, he's also sorting out what new programs he'll add. Yarchi notes that, when people go out at night, they have hundreds of places and events to choose from. If you go to one, that means you give up the others. Yarchi hopes he'll be able to reach a wider range of people by developing a speaker series.
About the current turmoil, Yarchi is hopeful.
"Obviously the situation is a big obstacle, but I think it can be solved," he says. "I have family in the north, so I've been glued to the TV, but things are going back to normal. ... It might be the last war on this border. The Lebanese don't want a war. They lost so much with Iran and Syria manipulating them. They used (Lebanon's) ground as a battleground, and it's really a shame.
"In Israel, we haven't had a moment of peace. We've had six major wars and numerous tensions. Still we're optimistic. You know, I may be optimistic or naive, but I think in 15 years it will all be ancient history. I hope." ©