Being a Jew in C-U: The Ambassador

A video flashed by on my Facebook feed the other day.

champaign-urbana israel jewish world

Sometimes the world can feel a lot smaller. Morguefile photo

There’s President Obama, walking off Air Force One on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, being greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu. In the next frame, there’s the President hugging an American, and calling him brother (it’s in the first few seconds).

That American was Ambassador Daniel Shapiro. I know him better as “the Jewish guy who grew up in Champaign and is now the U.S. Ambassador to Israel.”

Even if you don’t pay much attention to world geopolitics or presidential diplomatic tours, it is hard to ignore that President Obama is in Israel right now. Much has been made of the trip because although he travelled there twice as the junior Senator of Illinois, he did not make one trip to the Middle East’s only democracy during his first term.

But he’s there now, and it means the spotlight is on the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and Ambassador Shapiro is right in the middle of it.

It is truly inspirational to me to see that a man who grew up in Champaign — his parents used to be professors at the University of Illinois who remained C-U residents until fairly recently — is the U.S. Ambassador to Israel.

I’m going to say this again: the U.S. Ambassador to Israel is a Champaign native. It says it, in fact, right there on his (mostly Hebrew language) Facebook page.

One of the most daunting parenting challenges we face is raising our children in our faith and among our people. Since I grew up in a very Jewish Chicago suburb, years ago I thought that my biggest challenge would be raising Jewish children in Champaign-Urbana, outside of a “typical” Jewish community.

But now there’s no question in my mind that Champaign-Urbana has a very active, robust, diverse, and complex Jewish community. It has varied Jewish institutions, and more rabbis per capita than you can shake a stick at (whatever that means). But most of all it has wonderful Jewish people, many of whom I’m lucky enough to call my friends.

Of course we don’t have a Jewish deli and I have to import my bagels. But I’m at peace with that, for many reasons.

Among them?

That I can show my kids a video of the President of the United States getting off Air Force One in Tel Aviv and hugging the American Ambassador to Israel,  a nice Jewish boy who just happened to grow up in — of all places — Champaign, Illinois.

Laura Weisskopf Bleill is the co-founder and editor of, and she won’t be eating any imported bagels this week since Passover starts on Monday. You can reach her at laura@chambanamoms(dot)com.

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  1. Laura, I share your excitement in this. Quality people come out of this diverse community and our differences make us rich. I also share your desire for Jewish Deli and a decent bagel. This east coast girl has suffered it for too long.
    Thank you for I read it frequently to warm my soul, having left sweet C/U over a year ago.