A newlywed, Tuksar and his Israeli wife, Hila, moved here in August so he could take up the position. Until now, varied organizations provided aliyah-related services to Philadelphians, he said, or representatives from the agency's New York office would come to interview interested people or to make a presentation.
"Now we are here and hoping to make a difference," said the new shaliach.
After hearing Tuksar's story, it's easy to understand why he'd move halfway around the world to provide aliyah information to the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community.
Tuksar, 28, wasn't always so familiar with Israel, or Judaism, for that matter. There was a Jewish community center in his troubled hometown of Zagreb, Croatia — then part of the former Communist-ruled Yugoslavia — but it was more of a social gathering place than a religious hall, he explained.
He celebrated holidays, but didn't know the history behind the Passover seder or lighting Shabbat candles. He never had a brit milah or Bar Mitzvah.
"I knew I was Jewish," he said, "but didn't know what it meant."
After rocket attacks shook Zagreb's Jewish community center when war broke out in 1991, the Jewish community of Cherry Hill, N.J. brought Tuksar and 34 other Jewish Croatian refugees to the United States to live for a year with local families. Then 12, Tuksar and his older sister were housed with a Jewish family and attended a Jewish private school.
During seventh grade, Tuksar said that he saw his first map of Israel, went to synagogue for Shabbat and the holidays, and had his first experience with Bar Mitzvah ceremonies, as his classmates went through the coming-of-age ritual. He said that he'd never heard of a Bar Mitzvah before that time — and that now, he wanted to become one himself.
He had his chance the following summer, when, after his return to Croatia, the Jewish Agency for Israel sponsored a monthlong trip to Israel for Serbian and Croatian Jewish children. He had his Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem at the Western Wall, along with hundreds of other Eastern Europeans.
"I just fell in love with Israel," he said. "Something happened in my heart."
When war started again in 1995 in his home region, he spent another year with a second Jewish family in Cherry Hill. The Jewish Agency again sponsored a trip to Israel for Jewish refugee children the following year. This second trip helped convince Tuksar and his mother to make aliyah in 1997. They joined his sister there; she had made aliyah several years earlier.
'Found a Home'
Though it was "hard to just get up and leave everything you know," Tuksar said that he decided to fully immerse himself in Israeli life. He worked on a kibbutz, served in the Israel Defense Force and earned a degree at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For the past two years, he worked as a missions coordinator at the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem.
"I finally found home," he declared, a smile on his face. "In Israel, it doesn't matter where you're from — everyone's from somewhere else."
He said that he wanted to give back to Israel and the Jewish community that assisted him and his family, so when the two-year Philadelphia position opened up, he didn't hesitate to sign on. No longer will people curious about making aliyah have to call New York or Israel, he said.
He insisted that he's not here to "talk someone into making aliyah"; rather, he aims put all Israel options — from education to job opportunities — into the proper perspective.
For more information on aliyah, call 215-832-0813 or e-mail: [email protected]