“My whole life I have been travelling back and forth between Israel and Rhode Island. I think I am most comfortable in a state of movement,” Elan Cohen says. “I can easily slip between worlds.”
Born to an Israeli father from Kibbutz Alonim and a mother from Long Island, Cohen spent his childhood on the kibbutz before moving to Providence at age four. Thinking of the kibbutz where he spent his earliest memories, and where he returned every summer even after moving to Rhode Island fills him with nostalgia for a simple lifestyle. After graduating from Wesleyan University, Cohen participated in the Masa program and worked as an Israel teaching fellow in Ramla.
“I fell in love with Ramla, and had to stay a little longer,” Cohen explains. Following his Masa program, he stayed in Ramla and partnered with professors from Columbia (double check?!?) to bring conflict resolution skills to community leaders of the mixed ethnic town.
After his time in Ramla, Cohen decided to return to Providence where he accepted his position as Israel Engagement Fellow at Brown RISD Hillel. There, he coordinates Israel related programing including leading Birthright trips. He credits his ease in travelling between countries and his roots in Israel, to his love of leading Birthright trips, as he is able to share with others a culture and landscape that has shaped him. His Birthright trips include a unique stop in Ramla, a scavenger hunt at the local shuk, and lunch at a restaurant where he used to work.
“I consider Providence, Alonim and Ramla to all be pieces of me. All are my home.”
This gap in belonging is often bridged by the large Israeli community of Rhode Island.
“I always feel like I know all the Israelis in Rhode Island,” he says laughing, attributing a similar communal atmosphere to Rhode Island and Israel, both smaller places. Although he remembers wishing he had more Israeli peers his own age growing up. Today at Hillel he works to bring together a community of Israeli Brown students through luncheons and Hebrew hours.
While living in Israel and the United States he is often asked about the politics of the other. “I have never believed that being Israeli or being an American establishes me as a representative for their governments or even bound to agree with that government. But I am still always strongly connected to the two nations.”
Cohen views himself as a link between Israel and Rhode Island—allowing others to learn, discover, and decide for themselves. He would love to connect with Israelis in Rhode Island through the new Israelis RI webpage and Israelis RI Facebook page.