Israeli emissary makes a difference in St. Louis

Yael Trager (left) is in St. Louis for a two-year stint as a shlicha (Israeli emissary), taking part in a variety of Israel education programs. 

By Noga Melnick, Senior, John Burroughs School

Meet Yael Treger, an outstanding young woman from Karmiel, Israel. Treger decided to become a shlicha (Israeli emissary) after completing four years of army service.

“I wanted to become a shlicha because I wanted to have the chance to bring a different Israel [to America] than what we hear on the news, to bring the culture and the full picture,” Treger said. “I was also excited [to live] in a new area with a different culture and [to learn] more about Judaism abroad.”

Becoming a shlicha is a process that takes several months. Treger spent three months attending workshops and interviews at the Jewish Agency for Israel. Only after another month of interviewing with different communities did Treger know she was coming to St. Louis.

For years, several organizations of the St. Louis community had been endeavoring to further engage Israeli families in the Jewish community. 


“Five years ago, I realized that there are many secular Israeli families in St. Louis and that they for the most part do not belong to synagogues,” said Rabbi Shafner of Bais Abraham Congregation. “In Israel, the parents were connected to Jewish life because Israel is a Jewish country, but their children were often born in the U.S.A. and [they] attend public school and have very little to no Jewish education. Outside of Israel, it is almost impossible to remain Jewishly connected without a strong Jewish community and Jewish education.”

To meet these needs, Bais Abraham started the Shelanu School. This Sunday school teaches Israeli children to read and write in Hebrew and also expands their knowledge of Judaism. But this alone did not suffice.

“In order to help engage secular Israelis in an American Jewish congregation, we needed bridges,” Shafner explained. “Since culturally, Israelis and Americans are very different.”

Bais Abraham partnered with Tzofim and the Jewish Community Center and were able to bring a shlicha to St. Louis two years ago through the Jewish Federation. 

Most shlichim in the United States come primarily to engage Americans in Israeli culture. However, St. Louis’s shlicha has another focus. 

“My role as shlicha is to build a bridge between the Jewish American community and the Israeli community in town,” Treger explained. “I do it through working with Bais Abraham, the JCC, and the Tzofim. I also do interviews for people who are asking to make aliyah (immigration to Israel).”

At Bais Abraham, Treger teaches Hebrew, organizes cultural events, and enjoys being a part of the synagogue’s community. She also organizes events at the J for the Israeli community. However, most of Treger’s time is spent leading a youth movement called Tzofim, also known as the Israeli Scouts.

“Yael is basically in charge of the whole Tzofim,” explained Ella Galer, a counselor who has been a part of Tzofim since moving to St. Louis in sixth grade. “She’s the counselors’ counselor. She plans meetings, field trips, programs, camps and everything else. Yael keeps the counselors motivated to do the best for our groups and she makes the kids love coming to Tzofim.” 

In addition to making sure that Tzofim functions and achieves its best, Treger also provides the scouts a closer link to Israel.

“Since many of the kids and counselors in Tzofim were born in the U.S., Yael brings Israel to Tzofim,” Ella said. “She reminds us of where we all came from and she bonds us together.”

Treger is more than just a leader for the Tzofim, though. She truly makes an effort to get to know the teens she works with and to help them in any way she can.

“Yael is also our best friend, sister and mom,” Ella said. “She knows all of us better than we know ourselves and she knows when to be strict, funny, serious or when we just need someone to talk to.”

This atmosphere makes the Tzofim feel more like a family to many of the participants, rather than just a youth movement.

“My favorite thing about Tzofim is that it’s like my family,” Ella said. “We celebrate holidays together and bond over our love for Israel.”

Treger is now entering her second and final year as St. Louis’s shlicha. She is hopeful that her second year will be even more successful than her first.

“I love my job and I felt that on my first year I just learned how things work here,” Treger said. “And now when I learned from my experiences and my mistakes I am sure that my second year will be much more productive.”

Treger is happy to be serving the community that gave her so much upon her arrival, when she was still adjusting to her new home and role.

“It wasn’t easy, but the community was so welcoming, and everyone is so warm and nice that it made it a bit easier,” Treger reflected. “I love the people here, it feels like a new family for me.’’