Gal Massalton is an Israeli native who is working in Baltimore as the Israel shlichah (emissary) for the Baltimore Zionist District (BZD).
Originally from Rehovot, Massalton, 32, took a gap year before joining the army to volunteer locally with the Israeli scouts. She served in the Israel Defense Forces as a captain for seven years, earning a degree in education and social sciences during her service. Even after leaving the army, Massalton has continued to serve as an outside adviser to both the armed forces and businesses in Israel, developing educational and leadership programming. Before coming to the United States, she worked for the Maccabi Tzair Youth Movement as the head of their gap-year program.
How did you end up in the United States?
Maccabi Tzair has had a partnership with BZD for a long time, so my job is a partnership of three organizations, Maccabi Tzair, BZD and the Jewish Agency. Everything I needed to get here, such as training and applying for a visa, was through the Jewish Agency. I have been here for two years, and I have one year left here.
It is a shlichah program, there are about 500 shluchim in North America, but the roles vary by location. I am the community shlichah, so I do community events. I am going to schools, synagogues, really anywhere that wants me to speak about Israel and or issues related to it and putting on events there. There are other shluchim with different roles — for example, those with jobs on college campuses. We will do many of the same things, but the demands vary by job.
What do you do day to day?
I do just about anything that anyone wants me to do relating to Israel. BZD’s goal is to bring Israel to Baltimore; so if anyone wants me to speak about a specific subject like my army service or wants to do a program in high school or with seniors, I build a program. I am doing this in a few places. For example, I am working a lot with Jerusalem U. I bring a movie and then we do a discussion about it. Last year, it was a film called “Beneath the Helmet” that highlights five young Israeli high school graduates who are drafted into the army to defend their country. This year, it is “Mekonen,” about the journey of an African Jew.
We do Yom Hazikaron ceremonies, the memorial day of Israel. It is a big ceremony that we do every year. Last year, we did it in Beth Tfiloh and it was really amazing; nearly 500 people attended. I am in charge of the aliyah process. Anyone from Baltimore who wants to do aliyah needs to come and meet with me for an interview and the application process. I also help to do programs with youth movements, bringing programs here through Maccabi Tzair.
What are your goals?
I think that Yom Hazikaron was the most important project that I have worked on because it is related to Israel. I feel like the Memorial Day here in the United States is so different from Memorial Day in Israel. It was hard for me to bring the Israel ceremony and Israeli way of doing Yom Hazikaron to the United States. I think that is my main project. I cannot wait until next year to get going with that. I feel like the last two years were each bigger and more meaningful than the last. I think it was really getting to people and helping them really understand what the day means. It is so different — sometimes people cannot understand what it means — to finish high school and go right into the army.
I didn’t know what to expect when I came to the United States, I didn’t know why there were Jews who lived here instead of Israel, to be honest. I grew up in Israel all my life, and I have traveled but not lived anywhere else. I didn’t know what to expect, but I am starting to learn about all of the ways that you can be Jewish and live to support Israel. It surprised me to see how many people from Baltimore do aliyah, there are around 70 families already this year.
I want to get to more new places, Baltimore has so many organizations and I want to reach out and speak with them. Organizations that I have worked with before will reach out to me now, I have made connections, but it gets to the point where I have booked everyone who has reached out and I need to find new places. It is really exciting to me to address new audiences; they don’t have to be Jewish.