Michal Wetzler, 28, is the first of her kind as shlichah for Pearlstone Conference & Retreat Center. There are places like Pearlstone across the country that are also part of Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming and Education (JOFEE), but none (yet) have a shlichah.
Wetzler grew up on a kibbutz in Israel, an early life that led to her love of nature and the outdoors. After her time in the Israeli army, she traveled to places such as India and Nepal and then headed to school for informal education in Israeli studies. Before she packed up everything for her shlichut, Wetzler owned her own tour guide company.
At Pearlstone, Wetzler has been adding an Israeli dimension to existing programs as well as introducing new programs during her seven-month tenure so far. The new programs tend to focus on connecting Jewish education to nature.
How did you end up at Pearlstone?
I knew I wanted to be a shlichah a long time ago — I think in 2010 when I went to my first shlichut in summer camp in California with the Jewish Agency. After that, every year they would call me and ask if I wanted to do a long shlichut and I’d always be like, “Yeah, yeah, I really want, but I’m studying now,” or “I’m working now.” Then, since I graduated, I said yes. So, I applied, and it got to where I had to choose a community. I had a few [chosen], but something told me there is something else for me. So I waited a little bit more, and they came to me with the suggestion of Pearlstone. The Jewish Agency knew how much I love the idea to connecting other people to themselves and others through nature, and Judaism and nature together have deep bond. And I got here. So, I’m really happy I listened to my heart. It was important for me to know I’m doing shlichut from the right place in my heart, not just because it’s shlichut, but because I really have connection and motivation to do it.
Describe your job [at Pearlstone] and what you’re hoping to accomplish.
I see my shlichut here as a tree with three branches of community. The first community, first branch, is Baltimore because we are also under The Associated, and so I see my job as not only here in Pearlstone, but also going to the city and the community to do things with The Associated. Or going to Repair the World or Moishe House or a Charm City Tribe event. The [second] branch is the Pearlstone community, the staff that works here. So, for me, I am their shlichah. I am here to bring them the Israel connection and bring space for conversation about Israel. And the third branch is all the groups that come here for our programs. For them, I’m bringing in Israel and new programs that we started this year.
What’s been your favorite part of being a shlichah?
I came here to bring Israel and I’m a shlichah, [but] as much as I’m here to do those things, I feel like my next shlichut will take all the things I learned about Judaism here in the United States back home.
From the first week, I needed to get some driving lessons [in Owings Mills] so I could drive a car here, and on the way back I was really hungry. So, I stopped at some store, like a Home Depot, but I didn’t understand what that was. I run inside and it’s all things for home, but I find some chips. I get in line and stand behind someone with a kippah. And I was like, “Oh, Jewish.” But I didn’t understand there are so many Jews in Owings Mills. But I was like “OK, he’s a Jew, he’s family.” So I started talking to him, and I bought my thing and he bought his thing, and we keep talking outside. And he was just like, “OK, you should come for Shabbat.” And he told me in the end, “You know, we’re all family.” And, for me, that felt like a big welcoming.
What’s been one of the most interesting or memorable experiences?
I feel like every program we do comes with so many beautiful things. I think what’s most exciting for me is to see the shine in people’s eyes. To see kids — and grownups — to be outside and feel the air, there’s something so natural for us to be outside.