by Bill Lazarus
Maya Joshua, Kehilla’s Programs and Communications Manager since the turn of the year, has ties to both Israel and the United States as well as to her mom’s political activism and her dad’s secular pragmatism. “I’m lucky that I have two homes,” Maya says. “I feel thoroughly American as well as Israeli.”
That luck has not always been an easy ride. “To love a culture so deeply — the music, the food, the values — and to know they are intricately woven into a history of displacement of other people — is more difficult than some people understand,” Maya says. She sees Israel as “prioritizing a home for the Jews to the exclusion of others, in ways that are not just unnecessary, but sometimes just plain cruel.”
Maya’s mother moved from NY to Israel when she was in her 30s to work with Interns for Peace, an organization dedicated to promoting peace though creation of interpersonal relationships between Arabs and Jews. Her mom was intensely political, focused on broad social issues. Her dad was essentially apolitical. “He raised us to pay attention when people needed help individually, and less in terms of large-scale social change,” Maya recalls. While her parents divorced when she was very young, they continued to live near each other and shared in her upbringing, though Maya lived mostly with her mom.
Maya spent her childhood growing up in Karkur, a town about an hour’s drive northeast of Tel Aviv. At that time, Karkur felt quiet and intimate, close to the land and community. When she turned 13, dad moved to Temecula in southern California, and she and her mom soon followed for a period before returning to Israel.
Maya has continued to live at times in the United States and at times in Israel. She attended the University of Redlands, first taking every course that looked interesting and then concentrating as a sophomore on economics and languages. At the same time, Maya recalls, “I felt this deep sense of confusion about my Israeli-American identity and what it meant about my future and how I was living my life,” she says. She decided to deal with that confusion by entering her mandatory two-year stint in service with the Israeli Defense Forces.
“I wasn’t sure where I belonged,” Maya recalls.
“I felt like I needed to know my culture more deeply and to know the parts of my culture that bothered me. The army was a big window to that. It was an absolutely terrible idea.”
Maya served her time, with difficulty. “I didn’t like being told what to wear. I hated the idea of being owned,” she says, adding her qualms about the military in today’s Israel. “I believe that Israel should have an army,” Maya says, “but that this is not the army that Israel should have, because it is engaged in oppression.”
Maya filled a non-violent role during her time in the IDF. She served as a counselor for foreign civilian volunteers.
After her two-year stint ended in November 2012, Maya worked as a waitress in Tel Aviv for four months, and went to Australia, where she found work as an office manager in Melbourne for eight months. She saved enough money to fund her travels to Southeast Asia, backpacking through Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, before returning to the United States to spend more time in California and the East Coast. Maya then returned to the University of Redlands to earn a degree in computer programming and French in 2014.
Maya then worked with Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger as something of a tour guide, introducing people to its traveling exhibit on the reality of hunger in the US.
Late in 2017, Maya was in Syracuse, New York when she came upon a Kehilla online posting, looking for a program and communications manager. She was particularly impressed by Kehilla’s interest in building community.
“People here [at Kehilla] value community in a deep appreciation for human connection, and the social change that can be brought about through the power of that human connection,” Maya says. “I think that’s so cool.”
In a December phone interview, Maya recalls Kehilla’s executive director Michael Saxe-Taller expressed hesitation to hire out-of-state for a position he wanted to fill as soon as possible. She replied that she could start whenever Kehilla needed, and a new chapter was launched. Maya hopes for it to be a long one. “What,” she asks, “do we have in life other than the work we do and the community we do it for?”