Itai Divinsky and his family moved to Denver in 2019 so he could serve the Jewish community as Shaliach (Senior Emissary) from Israel. The family came from the region of Ramat HaNegev, in the Negev desert, Colorado’s partnership region in Israel. As he prepares to begin his final year of service, Divinsky talked about the ways this partnership has changed lives in Israel and in Colorado.
What was it about Ramat HaNegev that captivated you?
Geographically, the region of Ramat HaNegev is the largest local authority in Israel. I loved it from the first moment I saw it. When you arrive, there is one area where you look out the windows, and you feel you are at home. To this day, that is one of my favorite views in Israel.
You are one of the founders of Sheizaf, a new community in the Ramat HaNegev region, where religious and secular Israelis live together. What drew you to this experience?
It was clear to my wife and to me from day one that we wanted to live in the Negev, not in the city. We were living in Beersheba when I got a call about Sheizaf, a community which unites all Jewish Israelis—a place where your neighbors would also be your best friends. That is the central part of our life, so we moved there.
In 2016, you served on a young leadership delegation that came to learn more about Jewish life in Colorado. Fast forward to 2019, and you leave your home with your wife and three daughters under the age of five and move to Colorado to become the Shaliach at JEWISHcoloado. It seems like a giant leap!
I know—and our three young daughters did not speak English! But we have always asked, “What is our personal mission and what is the mission of our generation?” We believed that coming to Denver was the next step because we could support the connection of Israel and the Jewish community around the world.
In your role at JEWISHcolorado, you have worked with Rabbi Strear to identify the needs in Ramat HaNegev and make sure that Colorado philanthropy is put to the best use there. How have Coloradans made an impact in this part of Israel?
We have a wonderful relationship with the former mayor and the current mayor in the region, so we know how to best support the community. The biggest capital project that Colorado has built there was a new high school. Before it existed, the closest high school was more than 60 minutes away, a long bus ride. The distance was a barrier to education for many. We believe the Negev is the future of Israel, the next frontier. This new high school is one major factor that will enable this region to grow in population.
Colorado philanthropy has also supported a therapy center for families with children who have special needs. How has that made a difference?
There was not enough room to fit all the kids in the schedule at this therapy center so the need was great. The nearest place for therapy is Beersheba which is 45 minutes away. With support from Colorado donors, they have added more space. Just as important, JEWISHcolorado has supported the everyday operating needs of the center. Personally, I know the impact. I have friends whose children go there every week. Now, they don’t have to take a day off from work to get help.
What are some of the other ways the support of JEWISHcoloado donors is being felt in the area?
JEWISHcolorado has provided seed money, especially for women entrepreneurs, to help create business opportunities for them until they can stand on their own feet. Also, funds have been directed to support the development of Bedouin tourism opportunities and education for the young people in the Bedouin community. The village of Nitzana has received substantial funding from JEWISHcolorado for the variety of educational opportunities that are offered there for different groups of students.
How do you view this philanthropic partnership?
For some people who give, it’s important to see a result that is bricks and mortar. But many of the philanthropic dollars go to building living bridges. By that, I mean we are building relationships between Jews in Colorado and Jews in Ramat HaNegev.
It’s easy to see a building under construction. How do you know relationships are being built?
When Colorado students visit Ramat HaNegev—whether through a school trip or on IST—they return home feeling like they have family in Israel. And when Israeli students join the American students on IST, their lives are changed forever because from now on they will always care about American Jews.
The Chair of the JEWISHcolorado Board, Rob Kaufmann, visited Ramat HaNegev with his daughter on a family trip. When it came time for her bat mitzvah, she asked for no gifts. Instead, she wanted people to donate tablets with a special software to the children with special needs at the therapy center.
To me, that is inspiring—to know that a teen sees this community, which is thousands of miles away from her home, as a place that she wants to support in such a meaningful way.
Perhaps, you and your family are also examples of the bridge between Colorado and Ramat HaNegev?
Yes, I came for a week-long leadership mission, and then I decided it was important enough to bring my family across the ocean to live here. My son was born in Colorado. I feel now that Colorado and the Jewish community in America are my community. Jews have grown apart because of the diaspora, but they still remain one Jewish people, and JEWISHcolorado supports bridges around the globe.