As a teen growing up in Haifa, Guy Gelbart was active in the Israeli Scout Movement, the Tzofim. “It was about the coolest thing you could do,” Gelbart told the AJP. Now, at age 36, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s new Israel Center director and community shaliach, or emissary, has his own view of what’s cool. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science and engineering from Israel’s prestigious Technion, which he compares to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) in Boston.
Gelbart had a successful career in Israel’s high-tech industry, first with Wavion, helping develop the outdoor access card for wireless networks, then as a software designer with Intel for the wi-fi card that’s used on 60 percent of the world’s laptops. But he jumped at the opportunity to represent his homeland as a shaliach with his family.
Not a complete stranger to life in the United States, Gelbart attended kindergarten in Lawrence, Kan., where his father was a visiting professor at the University of Kansas. “I also spent 7th grade in Covina, Calif., where I was the only Jewish kid in school,” says Gelbart.
It was on a family visit to a playground in Israel about a year ago that their new adventure began. “A young woman approached me,” he recalls, “and said, ‘Guy, how are you?’ She remembered me when I was in 11th grade and she was in 5th grade.” She had just returned from a stint as a federation shaliach in Cincinnati and was eager to relate her positive experience to Gelbart.
“I sent my application to the Jewish Agency for Israel,” he says. “My parents thought I was crazy, saying, ‘You’re leaving Intel to do this?’ I had to resign.” Gelbart arrived in Tucson on Aug. 15 with his wife, Inbal — a sports coach who had once ordered him to run around the field five miles when both were in the Israeli Army — and the couple’s three young children.
“Tucson was my first choice after looking at websites” around the United States, says Gelbart. “It was the only place with such a tight connection between the Federation, the JCC and other parts of the Jewish community. ”
Gelbart sees “an important connection between the Jewish community worldwide and the United States, [who are] facing a huge effort to demonize and delegitimize Israel’s right to exist. Look at a country like Iran,” he says, “led by [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, who is known to break international law and [promote] terror even against his own people. This poses an existential threat to Israel and the Jewish population.” The possibility of Iran having nuclear weapons is scary, he added.
“We all hope to achieve real peace,” says Gelbart, “but like a good marriage you need both sides to protect themselves, respect each other, communication and for both sides to be secure.”
Here in Tucson, “I want to help strengthen the bonds between the Jewish community, the wider Tucson community and Israel,” he says. Gelbart has already stepped out into the broader community, giving a lecture to non-Jewish American-Israel Friendship League teen ambassadors going to Israel. And, notes Gelbart, he hopes to reach Tucson Jewish teens; any teen who enrolls in Hebrew High courses on Israel will receive a free pass to the Israel Center’s “Heartbeat of Israel” series.
Living in the United States again, he says, “is a great experience for my family to get to know a new culture,” especially since he’s the only member of his family who speaks English. “Two or three years from now, my kids will speak English better than I do,” says Gelbart. “They’ll say, ‘Dad, you’re embarrassing me.’”
On Sunday, Sept. 26, from 10:30 a.m. till 1:30 p.m., the Gelbart family will host a Sukkot open house with a light Israeli brunch. RSVP to Tremia at the Israel Center at 577-9393, ext. 133 or [email protected].