Sahar Malka is a professional Israeli. As a shlicha, or emissary, Malka, 25, is the face of the Jewish state at Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Synagogue in Potomac and the MoEd Hebrew after-school program in Chevy Chase. Born on Moshav Burgata in central Israel, she arrived in Washington, practically on a whim, in 2014. She’ll return to Israel next month.
Your moshav, Burgata, was founded by Turkish and Moroccan families. So which are you? Or are you both?
I’m Moroccan. But my mom’s mom is Romanian. My mom’s dad’s heritage is Dutch.
What’s changed on your moshav since you were a kid?
The moshav was much smaller then. There were a lot more wooded areas. My moshav is a circle. Part of the circle was all pecan trees. As children, we used to go into those pecan woods and pick them. And now they took all of them down, and there are houses instead.
As a child, we would come back from school — old enough to not need a babysitter, but young enough to get in trouble — and we’d go out to the field. I remember once, we went to this abandoned house, it’s in the middle of the moshav. And there was a snake. I think about it now and I realize one of us could have gotten bitten. It was sitting in the middle of the house and we kept opening the door and looking. And snakes are so fast. If it had wanted to, it could have gotten us.
I can’t see kids here [in the United States] doing all the stuff I did. We really explored. I think it’s different in the moshav now. Even in Israel, parents are more like the parents here. More sheltering. More needing to know where the child is at any given second.
How did you become a shlicha?
It was the most random thing [laughs]. I just came back from six months traveling in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines, and I didn’t really want to come back. It was my brother’s bar mitzvah. My parents were never really religious. We would eat shrimp on Friday night. If the food was kosher, we’d do Kiddush. I didn’t think it would be that much of a big deal if I didn’t come back for his bar mitzvah, because I didn’t feel religion was so dominant in our house.
But then my cousin decided to get married. So there were two things and so I decided [to stay for them].
So I scrolled on Facebook one night after I came back, and I saw the [announcement for the] shlichut. And I sent my resume. It was three months before I ended up coming here. Very fast. It was just a matter of luck. They were at the last leg of everything. So they wanted to get someone over as fast as they could so they could fit them in that year.
What’s it like to be the face of Israel all day long?
I feel like I’m the face of Israel more when I’m with adults. With kids it’s easier, because you can explain things. Most of the things you’re going to tell them about Israel they’ve never heard of. And they’re really charmed by it.
But with adults, someone will come up and say, “What do you think about the article from this morning?” And I haven’t read the newspaper yet. And they always feel like they need to share it with you. The opinions are so diverse. Even if I don’t agree with their opinions, their opinions about Israel are coming from a place of caring.
Are there things that you like about English and things that you don’t?
The fact that there are so many words for one meaning. So I like it because it gives you so many ways to express yourself. I don’t like it because it can be very confusing.
In English I can express myself differently than in Hebrew. The way you sound. Every society has its [stereotypes] of people. In Israel you have the frecha, the ars [derogatory terms for Mizrachi women and men, respectively]. So I know I need to speak in a certain way. There’s slang I won’t use because it reflects on me as a certain type of person. And so I speak so people can see who I am in our box of stereotypes.
And when I came to America, I had no clue. So I can just say what I think and I don’t have to be concerned.
Because you’re an outsider here. You don’t need to fit in.
And I’m thinking, how it will be when I’m in Israel and I’m not an outsider anymore?