In August, Nelly Ben Tal arrived in Denver to assume the position of JEWISHcolorado’s Shlicha. A couple of weeks after she settled in, we spoke with her about her family, the transition to life in Colorado, and her goals in her new role.
You have not been in Denver very long. How are you settling in?
Well, last night everyone slept through the night for the first time, so today is a good day!
Tell me about “everyone!”
I have twins, Libby and Rom, who are five years old and a nine-year-old daughter Ella. And of course, my husband Rotem.
This is a significant move and life change for you, but even more so with children.
We wanted our children to be the first to know about our plans—we did not want them to hear about it from other people. We took everyone for a picnic lunch with traditional food and said, “We want to share something with you.” Initially, our little ones were just puzzled, but Ella was absolutely thrilled.
As it sank in, Ella started worrying about leaving her friends in Israel. She wanted to know if she could get together with them on weekends! Within two weeks, she came to us and asked if she could have private English lessons, so she was preparing herself to arrive with confidence. All three of our children will be at Denver Jewish Day School, Ella in grade four and the twins in Pre-Kindergarten.
What did your husband think about this major move?
My husband really liked the idea of going on this journey as a family. He is adventurous, so he has been encouraging me to take this position for several years. In Israel, he has a company involved in solar energy. In fact, he holds a patent for an automated cleaning system for solar panels, so he is an innovator and an entrepreneur as well.
How did you initially get interested in becoming an Israeli emissary, a Shlicha?
Eran Doron, the mayor of Ramat HaNegev, suggested that I would be a good candidate for this position after I served in the community and culture department at the Ramat HaNegev Council a few years ago. The application through the Jewish Agency for Israel is intense with many steps. At every stage, you learn more about the role and the expectations. You have many chances to assess whether you are up to the challenge, but with each step of the application, you want the position more and more!
What intrigued you about this new position?
For the past 12 years, I have been working as an organizational consultant in technology, finance, and industry. I also served as the community manager in Ramat HaNegev, and I was the founder of a nonprofit organization. With each job, I have thought about what I am good at and what I like to do. I discovered that I like to create initiatives that relate to people and peoplehood. I wanted to achieve something with greater meaning along with broadening my organizational reach.
When I became a mother, I started thinking about my different identities—as an Israeli, a Jew, a mother, and a kibbutznik—and I asked myself about my values in each role and how I could share those values with my children. Becoming a Shlicha was a chance to do something greater both in my personal life and my work.
You mentioned that you are a kibbutznik. Where is your home in Israel?
I grew up in Hadera, I spent time in London after my army service, I went to college in Eilat, and then I moved to Tel Aviv. My family visited Ramat HaNegev frequently because my husband’s grandparents were founders of Kibbutz Mashabei Sadeh in 1947, so we have longstanding family ties there.
Every time I would go to visit, I felt that was the right place for me. The Negev opens your heart, you breathe differently, and the rhythm of life slows. When Ella was two years old, I told my husband I wanted to move there, and he is always up for a challenge. It is a wonderful place to raise independent children.
JEWISHcolorado and Ramat HaNegev have had long-lasting connections.
The partnership between JEWISHcolorado and Ramat HaNegev is very important. We are coming up on 25 years together, a major milestone. Colorado’s generosity has had a huge impact on settlements within Ramat HaNegev. We have issues in common—agriculture, water supply, sun and solar energy. We can help each other, learn from each other, and contribute to each other.
In some ways, you may find Colorado to be similar to your home in Israel and in some ways, very different.
My husband first came to Colorado in 2019 on a young adult mission and he felt welcome and safe, and he loved the beautiful parts of the state. I came with my husband for the first time in May and discovered that Colorado is very dry! Since we have moved here, the community has been very generous and kind. In our apartment, JEWISHcolorado staff even made sure that the children’s beds were made with unicorn and spaceship sheets, their favorites! Families have invited us to dinner and that makes us feel very good because it is important to us that our children get to know other children.
In this new role, you will be here for at least two years. It may be hard to talk about specific initiatives and goals, but in general, how will you measure success over time?
I would like to serve as a two-way bridge between communities in Israel and communities in Colorado. I would like to tell the story of Israel here in Colorado, both my personal experience as well as the experiences of others. With every encounter here, I promise I will share myself and my values.
While I am teaching, I hope to be learning. I want to learn about Jewish peoplehood in the U.S. What are their values? What kind of engagement do they have with Israel and the world Jewish community? These conversations, along with creating meaningful connections, open minds and help people understand and care about each other better. I would like my years in Colorado to be something that will impact me, so that I return to Israel a different person.
I will know that I was successful when I have reached new communities throughout Colorado that were not previously aware of or exposed to the great work of JEWISHcolorado.