New from JumpSpark: Amplifying Israel Teen Fellowship

By Atlanta Birthright Community Trips, GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS

In 2021, JumpSpark is excited to add teen Israel travel to its portfolio. In order to create enthusiasm around that shift, JumpSpark is launching the new Amplifying Israel Teen Fellowship! This is a bold initiative to strengthen our relationship with teens in our partnership region, Yokneam and Megiddo, and to amp up teen travel to Israel.

As the program launches, four Amplifying Israel Teen Fellows will be chosen from the Atlanta Jewish community. They’ll work with four identified teen leaders in Atlanta’s partnership region. Our Atlanta fellows are ambassadors who will be trained as social media storytellers for the program as they build excitement for Israel travel.

Just as we bring Shinshinim to Atlanta from our partnership region, we want to connect Atlanta teens to Israeli teens. This Fellowship will be the first step in strengthening our connection to our partnership region and getting more teens to Israel.

“This Fellowship will be the first step in strengthening our teen connection to our partnership region and getting more teens to Israel,” says Kelly Cohen, Director of JumpSpark. “Connecting on a personal level is key. That is what this program seeks to do.”

“Nothing compares to having a friend from Israel who is your age or to experience Israel with your Israeli friend,” says Eliad Ben Shushan, Director of the Partnership. “This is also a fantastic opportunity for our Israeli teens to learn about the life of teens in Atlanta.”

Shinshinim Life


By Amit Toledo

When the Shinshinim landed in Atlanta on September 27, I was feeling excited about the unknown and ready to tackle the two weeks of quarantine. Yet I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the fact that I was actually here. There were so many times over the last many months when all of us were worried the program would be cancelled for the year.
My adventure only began to feel real when I met my family, the Seitz’s, over Zoom just a few weeks before boarding a plane to Atlanta. I learned very quickly that they were the epitome of the “All American Atlanta Family” with their photo of the Braves in the background. I spent 30 minutes on the phone with my host sister Barri, who showed me her bedroom as we began getting to know one another.
Spending Yom Kippur and Sukkot in quarantine was the beginning of a new chapter in my adventure. Being quarantined with my Shinshinim cohort I learned quickly how to lean on and trust my new friends and colleagues. We cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and bonded over the two weeks in a beautiful Airbnb in a Roswell neighborhood. (I recommend the quarantine experience for future Shinshinim, not for Covid-19 but for bonding purposes.)
Many different supervisors, rabbis, Israeli community members, as well as current and past host families came to visit us and shared their experiences with our new group. It was overwhelming but I took it all in and learned a lot about the Atlanta Jewish Community.
I was nervous as I entered my new host home for the first time but quickly felt at ease. Though I expected it to feel awkward, it felt both natural and overwhelming — in the best way possible. Of course, the Braves were on TV, the energy was high, and my first American Shabbat dinner of hamburgers was delicious. Our family hike was the topping on the cake!
I’m very excited to see all of Atlanta and am looking forward to making an impact and seeing the changes that will happen in the year to come.

Home Away From Home


by Saren Schapiro, Host Family to Shiraz Bar Haim

Why did you choose to host a Shinshinit? What were you and your family hoping to gain?
Over the last few years, our family has seen the incredible experience our friends had hosting teens from Shinshinim Atlanta. Also, our two girls had unforgettable experiences learning with the Shinshinim at their Hebrew school at Or Hadash. When life slowed down this year and forced us to be home from work and school, the opportunity to devote time and attention to a Shinshinit was there. We signed up right away and were so excited when we heard that we would be hosting! I hope this year will be a year to remember for both our kids and Shiraz. We are excited to gain a daughter, big sister, and lifelong connection to Israel.

Tell me about your family’s feelings during the application process.

We were hopeful! No one really knew whether this year would happen or how it would look. We really just went with it, put ourselves out there, and looked forward to a unique opportunity.

So, you heard that you were chosen as a host family. It took a while to be officially introduced to your Israeli daughter. When you were introduced, how did the first meeting go? How did your family begin preparing for her arrival? What were your thoughts, plans, and emotions during this time?
That’s right! We didn’t find out this was happening until very close to the arrival time. The minute we found out Shiraz was paired with our family, we set up a time to FaceTime with her and her family in Israel. We met her mom, dad, and sister, and asked her all about herself. We showed Shiraz her new room as our girls jumped around in the background with excitement! Getting our guest room ready for her was a good incentive to do a little organizing around the house!

Tell me about the drive-by meeting on the day of Shiraz’s arrival. And then the Shinshinim’s two-week quarantine. How did your family manage that?
Meeting Shiraz that first day during the drive-by of their quarantine house was awesome! The girls made big Welcome signs, we brought our puppy along, and got to connect in person for the first time. We were able to get a feel for Shiraz’s personality and communication style. The two-week quarantine was HARD!!! We just wanted to hug her already! Shiraz’s birthday fell on the second day she was in Atlanta, so we were able to bring her a birthday cake and delicious lunch for an outdoor socially distanced party. We visited Shiraz in quarantine a few times over the two weeks, which really allowed us to get to know her. I was shocked and happy to see how quickly she clicked with my kids and was excited to engage with them and play, and how easily she seemed to fit into our family.

Tell me about Shiraz’s first week with you. What were the things you did together to begin the bonding experience?
The first day Shiraz was with us, we spent a quiet afternoon helping her unpack, showing her around the house, and exchanging gifts. Shiraz is such a kind, thoughtful person. She brought gifts for the kids, lots of games and toys, and asked them to help her unpack. They had a blast! My girls gave Shiraz a big basket of things we bought her to help her settle in. The first two nights Shiraz was here, my husband and I, and Shiraz stayed up late and talked forever. We discovered that Shiraz is an incredible young lady, very mature and insightful, with so many ideas and views. Over the first week we have been cooking (shnitzel night was the best!), hiking, playing, talking, having Shabbat dinner, watching movies, and making s’mores! Shiraz has quickly and easily fit into our family and made our house feel complete. We love her already!

How They’re Serving Jewish Atlanta


What does it mean to be a Shinshin in the midst of a global pandemic? It means summoning up courage and curiosity, dedication and drive! These young Israelis have already shown us they have all of that! The five Schoenbaum Shinshinim are currently working with over 25 Jewish and non-Jewish institutions in the Metro-Atlanta area this year — in person more often than not! Each Shinshin(it) spends time in our Jewish Day Schools between 2-4 days per week, and then in the afternoons and evenings they may engage in an after-school Hebrew School or youth group through Zoom.

Some of our synagogue religious schools have classes in person, some in a hybrid model, or on Zoom over the weekends. We are constantly finding creative ways to reach organizations that we were unable to add to our weekly calendars. The Shinshinim recently participated in Senior Week at the MJCCA, leading a program called “Growing up in Israel” where they shared their personal stories, their thoughts on serving in the IDF, and life in Israel during COVID-19. We plan to share a lesson on social media about the Ethiopian Holiday Sigd and will also amplify the MJCCA celebration of Hanukkah. 

We hope you will have a chance to interact with one of these inspiring and interesting young Israelis in the coming months.

Sharing The Same Moon. Sharing Our Lives.


All Jews share the same lunar calendar, and now twelve families from Yokneam, Megido, and Atlanta have officially begun sharing the moon! The project began two months ago to bring us together at a time when social distancing keeps us even farther apart. Working with our Partnership region, we paired Israeli families with families in Atlanta to build bridges.

Through letter writing these families are collaboratively building an interactive book together called The Same Moon. It tells the story of two families who live on opposite sides of the ocean who get to know each other by sending handwritten letters and photos throughout the year. The book features pockets where one can store the letters as a way to personalize the book for each family. Every month the book prompts the families to share something different about their lives — their hobbies, interests, holiday celebrations and traditions, favorite recipes, and more.

Katie Guzner, a PJ Library Co-Chair, loves the program. “We read PJ Library stories about Israel with our kids and tell them about my Birthright trip, and when my husband, Gennadiy, lived in Megiddo. Now our kids get to share stories with a family in Israel. It’s so precious to receive a letter from our pen pal family and for our girls to learn that we have so much in common.”

Lone Soldiers from Atlanta and St. Louis get a “hug” from our Partners in Israel


The concept of the “lone soldier” is almost unique to Israel where so many young men and women serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) without having immediate family in Israel. The lone solider can be a new immigrant or a volunteer from abroad. Most of them have no family in Israel to stay at on weekends when they are off base, and the pandemic makes things even worse — their relatives cannot come to visit them in Israel, and COVID-19 restrictions require soldiers to spend longer periods of time on base. Where can lone soldiers go for a reassuring hug, a hot meal, or a package from home?

This year, for the first time in the 26-year history of our Partnership, Israelis from Yokneam and Megiddo held a fundraiser to support and “adopt” lone soldiers from Atlanta and St. Louis now serving in the IDF. Local volunteers from the region will deliver packages to these lone soldiers at army bases across Israel. The effort was organized completely by volunteers and they surpassed their goal, raising approximately $6,000. Lone soldiers will receive packages for the High Holidays and also for Thanksgiving. Four more Partnership communities will follow Yokneam and Megiddo’s lead and raise funds to support lone soldiers. What a beautiful way to pay forward our sense of kesher (bridge building).

The Coronavirus in Israel


Keren Rosenberg, our Global Jewish Peoplehood Director, is currently staying in Israel with her family and working remotely. Keren has visited our partnership region as well as other places and programs supported by Federation. Keren, a native Israeli, who has lived in the U.S. for the past 8 years, shares the cultural differences of dealing with the pandemic, as well as the government approach. Keren observes: 

Israelis are used to dealing with emergencies and extreme situations, which makes them eager to enjoy life, celebrate, and appreciate the moment. While living under strict lock-down, Israelis expressed themselves through balcony singing to connect themselves to each other and raise their spirits. The singing continues to be popular both in religious and secular cities, even among residents of Amiguran assisted living facility for seniors, supported by Federation.

The Resurgence of Coronavirus
After the quarantine rules were relaxed in May, the virus had a resurgence. Tel Aviv feels crowded and busy — the beaches, restaurants, bars and the Shuk are crowded, but mask wearing is required and enforced. It is common in Israel for people who test positive for the COVID-19 virus to stay at hotels repurposed as quarantine facilities. Social distancing rules aren’t observed at the hotels because everyone is positive, so there’s a party-like atmosphere, despite the pandemic. 

Israel also has been doing extensive contact tracing by monitoring cell phone data. Israelis get a text message if they have been in contact with an infected person, asking them to remain quarantined. The government has recently approved “traffic light plan” for managing the pandemic, which creates an intervention model in “red” and “orange” cities. 

Impact in Yokneam: 
Because of the Coronavirus crisis, many people are unemployed in Yokneam. Emergency funds allocated from Atlanta are a lifeline for families who are struggling. Yokneam is beginning to develop its own philanthropic infrastructure to support local needs. For example: 

  • 110 computers were given to needy families in Yokneam by Israeli companies. 
  • The Mayor opened a bank account for funds raised by Israelis to help Yokneam families. 
  • The municipality is looking to hire someone who can develop relationships and funding from the factories in and around Yokneam. 
  • The Maof Ethiopian Family Center is doubling down on identifying new needs of the community because of the pandemic. The center helps families to find jobs and get support from organizations in the city. 
  • After the “Yo-Tech” group won first-place in the national competition, planning has begun for a new year. The goal is to recruit both Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian teens, to continue with app development and plan accordingly for internships in local hi-tech companies. 

Impact in Megiddo: 
Family empowerment in the Moshavim (agricultural communities) is the top priority. There is a focus on outdoor workshops and activities for the Moshavim‘s teens because of the pandemic. The emphasis is on intergenerational activities and activities that will serve the entire community and last for many years, such as building outdoor furniture from recycled material. The hope is that teens will take care of things they created and avoid vandalism. Kidum Noar, Megiddo’s youth at risk department, will open a new department of business-social entrepreneurship for the teens. 

Yo-Tech Program Wins National Competition


There was happiness and excitement in Atlanta and in Yokneam, our partnership city in Israel, when “Yo-Tech,” a Federation-supported initiative, won first prize in Machshava Tova — a national competition challenging teen entrepreneurs to create innovative “apps.” Machshava Tova, which means “good idea,” is an Israeli nonprofit organization with a mission to give underprivileged populations access to technology in a supportive and empowering environment. The ultimate goal is to help at-risk youth develop skills that will help them find careers in Israel’s booming high tech sector.

Our winning six-member team from Yokneam was one of just ten groups from different cities to reach the finals. They presented their app to a panel of ten judges via Zoom because of the Covid-19 regulations. Their app, called “Old School,” connects teens and seniors who share the same interests and hobbies, and matches them to connect either virtually or face to face. The teens can help seniors with tech challenges, or simply spend time with them in order to overcome loneliness. Each of the six teen winners will receive a laptop from Citibank Israel.

“This program gave me so much,” said 16-year-old Gavriel. “I was interested in computers because I know it’s the future, but I never had a chance to learn it. I have learned a lot of cool stuff about using the computer, how to speak in front of an audience, to cooperate with my friends, to work with deadlines and so much more.”

Lori Kagan Schwarz, who is Federation’s new board co-chair, was part of the committee that helped conceptualize and fund the “Yo Tech” project. She said, “I’m so honored to play a small part in the Yokneam teens’ accomplishment. It’s so fulfilling when we see a direct connection between the meaningful work we do around the table in our meetings and the outcomes on the ground, especially halfway around the world.”

Craig Kornblum, who chairs Federation’s Global Jewish Partnership Committee added, “This is one of the programs created by our committee to engage and inspire the youth in our partner region. I’m so proud of these kids!”

Race in Israel: Weber Students Learn the Ethiopian Story


This spring, just as Americans were rising up to protest the killing of George Floyd, Michal Ilai, who heads Israel Programs at Weber was preparing an intense month of high-level Hebrew learning for her summer school students. Given the protests, she felt it was a great opportunity to engage her Hebrew students in issues of race and diversity in Israel.

“With demonstrations occurring in cities around the world, it seemed like a great opportunity to talk about racism and diversity in the Israeli community. I reached out to my long-time educational partner Harel Felder at Dror Israel, an organization that is at the forefront of diversity education in Israel and asked him to help my students learn about race relations in Israel,” Michal Ilai said.

Harel Felder immediately thought of his colleague Liel, an Ethiopian immigrant who runs Dror programs for the Ethiopian community and invited her to speak with the students and share her personal story all that she’s doing to lift up the lives of Ethiopian Israelis.

Seth Shapiro, a rising Weber senior said of the experience, “Liel’s story expanded our minds and brought a new significance to many current world issues and even some of the more local issues. Listening to people like that speak of their experiences broadens horizons.”

Another rising senior in the class, Carly Spandorfer, said, “During our month-long summer course, we learned about and met many different types of people living in Israel. As we are seeing issues of race relations here in America, I feel it was absolutely necessary to discuss race relations in Israel. Learning about Ethiopian Jewry was particularly meaningful for me because we’re so used to speaking about Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews — it was refreshing to hear about somebody who is Ethiopian and has a different story than many of us. It was very empowering to hear that despite struggles Liel faces in Israel due to her skin color, she is even more committed to her Zionism and to improving her country.”

Michal Ilai felt the partnership with Dror Israel was a success. “My hope for this lesson was that students would be able to analyze events with greater clarity and articulate their position about racial inequality both here and in Israel. I was glad to see both goals were achieved.”

Feeling at Home, Far from Home


Feeling at Home, Far From Home
by Itay Yekutiel, Israel Shinshin

My experience as a Shinshin (young Israeli emissary) in Atlanta for the past two months can be expressed through the song by the Israeli band, Hatikva 6.  The song begins with a guy saying, “Here I am. I came to the world to give the time. Hello everyone, I’m ready!” He asks himself, “What is my purpose in this world?” It brings me back to the day I boarded a plane to Atlanta with seven other Shinshinim and went on the journey of a lifetime. We landed in Atlanta and it took me a long time to realize, here I am, this is what I’ve been waiting for so long! Every place we visit, and every person I talk to, just adds more to my experience, my journey, and my life.

Originally I am from Tel Aviv, but shortly before I came to Atlanta my family moved to Holon, a small city near Tel Aviv.  Here in Atlanta I live in Toco Hills, a diverse neighborhood with many different types of people and different religious communities. It’s fun to see the differences, and also to see how everyone looks and acts like one big community. My hosts are the Gal family — wonderful people, with parents Erica and Raanon, and four lovely children, very similar to my family in Israel. It really feels like my house. They love me and their home feels like mine. I never believed I would feel so at home in a place so far from home!

I had a lot of apprehensions about coming here, like how will the high holidays be? And how will the prayers be? And how different is it from home? But the truth is, it’s not that different, and it’s not that strange — it’s very similar! As an observant Jew living in Atlanta within the Jewish community, I arrived with many questions and saw a lot of new things. For example, in the synagogue, the partition between men and women is very different. In Israel, the men are usually downstairs and the women upstairs, or sitting behind the men. The second thing I saw was that the women said the blessing over the challah, which in Eretz Yisrael does not happen. Also, on Sukkot there were women who handled the four species. There is a lot of equality between men and women in many things, this is the main difference that I noticed.

Much of our volunteering happens at schools. At first I thought to myself, “What? Every morning I have to get up early and go back to school? Didn’t I just graduate high school?” And the truth is that all I thought I’d learned about myself and about life has been rediscovered here. Each lesson feels significant, and every hour of the day, even my free time, is important and adds to the great puzzle of my journey.

I’m loving Atlanta — the people, the atmosphere, the culture, the food, the music, everything! The most positive experience I’ve had so far was the evening all the Shinshinim went to the BeltLine Lantern Parade, and as we walked there, we heard songs in Hebrew. We saw that there was a Chabad community singing near a sukkah, so we started dancing and singing with them. We felt like a family and it was a moment of fun and happiness and connection to the country in the best way possible!

As a Shinshin, it’s fun to be in the center with everyone asking questions and being interested in hearing about our lives in Israel. Yet slowly I have the thought of “this journey is going to end very quickly.” I always think that time is running away from me. So I go back to the words of Hatikvah 6 and the line, “And everything is before me” For me, the truth is that everything really is before me and my journey has just begun!