Departing shaliach Elihay Skital reflects on his eventful 2 years in R.I.


Elihay Skital, the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island’s shaliach (emissary from Israel), will be completing his two-year shlichut (mission) at the end of June.

Skital and I recently connected for a reflective conversation on his experiences at the Alliance and the strong ties he has made within the Jewish community in Rhode Island.

Skital describes the shlichut position this way: “In essence, I feel that I am a cultural ambassador. As a shaliach, the essence of the shlichut position was to serve as a cultural bridge, sharing my Israeli identity and traditions while simultaneously absorbing and learning from the local community.

“Through this profound exchange, I aimed to forge lasting connections between Israel and the vibrant Jewish community here.”

The following Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity.

When you think back on your original expectations for the position, how did the actual experience compare?

Having previously served in shlichut roles eight times, including with HaZamir, as a shaliach at Camp Havaya [in Pennsylvania] and as a unit head in my second year there, as well as guiding other shlichim at the Jewish Agency for Israel, I came to Rhode Island with experience and a profound passion for sharing my story and learning from others. My initial expectations were shaped by these previous engagements and the insights I had gleaned from fellow shlichim in other areas.

Upon arriving in Rhode Island, I found that the experience largely aligned with my expectations. The immense support from my supervisors, Larry Katz in my first year and Dori Adler in my second, played a huge role in helping me understand the nuances of the role.

Moreover, the Jewish Alliance afforded me a great deal of creative freedom, allowing me to make the shlichut position my own and tailor it to my strengths and vision.

While the core responsibilities were familiar, the unique dynamics of the Rhode Island community presented both challenges and opportunities that required adaptation and growth.

Ultimately, this experience has proven to be a profound one, enabling me to acquire new skills and knowledge while staying true to my passion for fostering cross-cultural understanding and connection.

Please share some highlights of your experience.

It’s challenging to pinpoint just one highlight, as there were several profoundly impactful moments. Among the most meaningful were my visits to Scituate High School and the Boy Scouts camp in Rhode Island. These opportunities allowed me to engage with the non-Jewish community, share the richness of Jewish culture, and showcase Israel’s unique identity as a melting pot of diverse Jewish traditions from around the world.

Interacting with these teenagers and addressing their curiosities, misconceptions and questions, sparked by social media, proved instrumental in fostering cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.

Please talk about the relationships that you have made over the past two years.

The warmth and hospitality of this incredible community has been truly remarkable. From being welcomed into people’s homes to the countless engaging conversations over coffee, I have felt an overwhelming sense of belonging and acceptance.

The kindness and genuine interest shown by community members have made my time here feel like a home away from home.

Moreover, the immense support I received, especially after the events of Oct. 7, was profoundly touching and provided me with the strength and resilience to serve as a resource, sharing knowledge and insights about the ongoing war through meaningful programs for the community.

Please share something you did that you think had the most impact on you and the community.

If I had to choose one particularly impactful program, it would be hosting the HaZamir [The International Jewish Teen Choir] Jerusalem group here in Rhode Island in April. Over the course of four days, these 11 Israeli teens engaged deeply with our community, visiting schools, synagogues and other institutions. Their performances, including a powerful community event attended by over 200 people, fostered profound connections and showcased the vibrancy of Jewish culture.

The ripple effects have been far-reaching, with JCDSRI [Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island] fifth-graders deciding to sing “Chai” (a very famous song stating we are alive and proud) at their zimriyah [songfest] after learning the song from the HaZamir teens.

Moreover, witnessing our own HaZamir Providence teens forge meaningful bonds with their Israeli counterparts was truly remarkable; they hosted them in their homes and were part of the tour.

Seeing over 200 people from our community come to the community event we had with HaZamir, supporting the teens and showing them love, was outstanding and empowering. This experience embodied the essence of cross-cultural exchange and left an indelible impact on both the community and the visiting teens.

Please share something that you struggled with.

One of the most significant challenges I faced was in the aftermath of the events of Oct. 7. Mustering the energy and drive to continue with my programming responsibilities while grappling with the emotional toll of the situation was immensely difficult. However, the overwhelming support from the community and the Jewish Alliance was instrumental in helping me persevere and regain strength. Their unwavering understanding during that period enabled me to find the fortitude to carry on with my work, ultimately allowing me to navigate that arduous phase with resilience.

How did Oct. 7 change your experience here in R.I.?

The events of Oct. 7 profoundly transformed not only my personal experience but also the very essence of my role. From being primarily a cultural ambassador, sharing my identity and background through various programs, I found myself thrust into the position of an ambassador in the truest sense – a representative defending Israel against the surging tide of hate and antisemitism.

The initial plans for programming underwent a significant shift, with a heightened emphasis on addressing the conflict. Numerous additional events were organized in collaboration with various organizations, allowing me to share my first-hand perspective as someone who has lived in Ashkelon, just five miles away from Gaza, and experienced this conflict since the age of 5.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of Oct. 7, I also encountered alarming instances of antisemitism within Rhode Island, which made me feel unsafe. Witnessing people’s opinions about Israel changing drastically or immediately judging me solely based on my Jewish or Israeli identity was deeply unsettling and concerning, especially when coupled with an unwillingness to listen to my story.

This experience reinforced the critical importance of Israel’s existence and the vital role of education and ambassadorship in fostering understanding. Consequently, I set a personal goal to engage with as many individuals as possible, to listen and learn, and to serve as an invaluable resource for our community, working tirelessly to ensure our collective safety and counter the pernicious forces of hate.

Is there anything that you would have changed about this experience?

Ideally, I wish we didn’t have to confront the demoralizing realities of hate and antisemitism. However, given the circumstances, I am grateful to have been present during this challenging period, enabling me to share my story proudly and impart my hard-earned knowledge as someone who has experienced years of conflict, enduring more than seven wars and operations.

While I sincerely wish we didn’t have to grapple with such pernicious forces, I am thankful for the opportunity to serve as a resource for our community during this tumultuous time. My role allowed me to counter misinformation, foster dialogue and hopefully change perspectives by offering a first-hand account rooted in lived experiences.

Although the circumstances were far from ideal, I am grateful to have been able to leverage my background and knowledge in a constructive manner, striving to cultivate greater understanding and empathy.

Was there anything that surprised you?

I was really surprised by the rapidity with which I felt embraced by this incredible community. Even before my arrival, I received warm greetings and offers of assistance through social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp.

Upon setting foot in Rhode Island, countless individuals opened their homes to me, sharing their stories and making me feel at home almost instantly. The sense of belonging and the genuine warmth extended by this community was truly remarkable and something I will forever cherish. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such a welcoming and supportive environment, which allowed me to seamlessly integrate and feel a deep connection from the very beginning.

Anything you want to add?

I am profoundly grateful to the incredible community here, the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island for welcoming me with open arms, and the Jewish Agency for Israel for entrusting me with this invaluable opportunity. This experience has been a journey of personal growth, cultural exchange and the forging of lasting connections that will forever shape my perspective.

Although Skital’s time at the Alliance is coming to a close, he will remain in Rhode Island as an undergraduate student at Brown University.

DORI ADLER is the director of Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.