Dean Bagdadi, 27, is an Israeli shaliach — Hebrew for “emissary” — working at the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. He previously served as a logistics officer in the Israel Defense Forces and received his bachelor’s degree in political science and business management from Ben-Gurion University. Bagdadi loves reading fantasy novels, playing board games and nature hikes.
What was your background growing up?
I’m from a family of Iraqi, Libyan, French Algerian and Hungarian culture. It’s a lot of different approaches, whether it’s culture, religion or politics, you’re always in between. One week you’re eating gefilte fish and the following week you’re eating chraime. Half of the table is right wing, half is left wing, half is secular, half is more observant. Growing up this way made me more accepting of different stories because I knew there were different answers to every question.
I grew up in Beersheva, where there’s not much to do. It’s so different here. My first notion was, Wow, you’re using a lot of pumpkin spice! It’s everywhere. Then I found out that pumpkin spice doesn’t have pumpkin in it!
We’re still getting our impressions of America. For the high holidays, we hopped between different congregations to see how different communities are hosting different services and how they celebrate Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot. One of my major impressions was that the services here are more approachable and accessible. Every congregation tries to explain and share the meaning behind the services and the prayers.
What is a shaliach?
The concept of a shaliach goes back hundreds of years. There have always been shlichim in the Jewish world — a connector between whoever lived in Israel and the Jewish communities everywhere. The means to do that vary based on each community.
Here, in Northern Virginia, I’m a senior shaliach, which means I implement communal engagement tools to create, facilitate and strengthen the community’s relationship with Israel. I want to foster a safe space to talk about Israel because I know how difficult and sensitive it is. I’m also part of the Greater Washington Delegation of Shlichim, which connects all of the shlichim in the region to collaborate on whatever we think will be good for communities.
Why are you a shaliach?
It’s a big deal to be shaliach, to be a connector between Israel and Jewish communities abroad. I wanted to share my story, my mixed background and how I view Israel. But I also loved the opportunity to come here and learn about the community, about Jewish life that’s different from what I’ve known. It’s a wonderful thing to do. And if not now, when?
What are you looking forward to?
I’m excited to get to know more people across the community and visit more congregations. I want to learn different approaches and create relationships. I’m also really looking forward to exploring America. I want to see Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. I don’t know if I can accomplish it, but I’ve always dreamed of going to Alaska.