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Shinshinim Atlanta

Shinshinim Life

By GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, Shinshinim 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 GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, Shinshinim Atlanta

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

By GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, Shinshinim 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.

Feeling at Home, Far from Home

By COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, Shinshinim Atlanta

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!

Learning from and Loving Yuval

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, Shinshinim Atlanta

by The Levy Family

When Atlanta Shinshinit (feminine form of Shinshin) Yuval Modan moved into our guest room in October, our entire family fell in love with this poised, mature, and beautiful 18-year-old young woman from Hod HaSharon, Israel. This is Yuval’s first time in the U.S., and her first time away from home, but you’d never know it. She is friendly and adaptable, like a puzzle piece that fits in and completes our family. She has created a special relationship with each one of us.

For Sydney, our 11th grader, Yuval is like a sister. “She has been teaching us Hebrew and sharing her Israeli traditions with our family. Molly braids challah with her most Fridays, Jordan watches Grey’s Anatomy with her, and I spend hours talking to her about our life experiences. Through bonding with Yuval, I have learned about her high school life in Israel and her passion for the scouts. She has introduced us to Israeli games and food.”

My husband Sam and I agree — Yuval has become our Israeli daughter.

Our family hasn’t had much exposure to Israel. I haven’t been since 1995. My husband Sam’s second trip to Israel was last January, on the Community Leadership trip, and Jordy went to Israel with Davis Academy. Yuval has changed all that. This summer Sydney is going to Israel with Camp Judaea and is already thinking about doing a gap year in Israel after high school. Yuval will be working at Camp Barney Medintz this summer while Sydney is there. I believe that Yuval’s positive experience in Atlanta gives Sydney the confidence to go to Israel on her own. What a gift!

Yuval teaches us all the time. Not just about Israeli food and culture and language, but about how to be an ambassador. In turn, I think we’ve provided a wonderful nest for her in our home. Teenagers are at their most vulnerable when away from home. If you open your arms and your heart to a Shinshin, you’ll give a gift to your family.

When she left for Atlanta, Yuval’s mom said, “Don’t fall in love with America or you might not come home.” I totally understand her mom’s worry. But I know Yuval’s love for Israel is deep. She can’t wait to serve in the army and is passionate about her land. We are excited to welcome Yuval’s family for Passover at our home — all of them, except her oldest brother, who is serving in the army, will be here soon.  It brings our families full circle and sets up a lifelong friendship for all of us.

Shinshinim Atlanta brings 18-year-old Israeli high school graduates to Atlanta for a year of service. If this story touched you, consider welcoming a Shinshin into your own home next school year. Find out more about hosting here, or contact Ezra Flom, Shinshinim Atlanta Director at 562-234-6609.

Atlanta is Exemplary

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, Shinshinim Atlanta

Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) was in Atlanta last week to update an enthusiastic crowd at Federation on the current priorities of the Jewish Agency. In this time of resurgent antisemitism, Bougie shared what keeps him up at night. It’s the relentless attempt to delegitimize Israel on American college campuses. It’s the rise of white nationalism in the United States. It’s the popularity of Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in Great Britain. It’s the instability of life for Jews in Latin America. It’s the attacks on synagogues and individuals in the U.S. and Europe.

But underlying all of this, Herzog worries that Jews in Israel and the Diaspora are growing apart, and that without more exposure to each other, more opportunities to learn from each other, the Jewish people could experience a devastating rift. Herzog’s priority, as the leader of the agency that helped resettle 35,000 Jews in Israel last year, is to safeguard Israel as a home for world Jewry, and also to build bridges. He actually thinks Atlanta is doing a remarkably good job doing both.

In meetings with local rabbis, and the organizations that work with our Shinshinim, Herzog lauded Atlanta’s partnership with Yokneam and Megiddo calling it “one of the most successful Federation partnerships in Israel.” He singled out the Shinshinim program — a program created by the Jewish Agency for Israel — for the way it brings the positive message of modern Israel around the world.

As the forward face of the Jewish People, and an agency not controlled by the government of Israel, JAFI, plays a unique role telling Israel’s story. The agency is represented by three pillars: Global Aliyah, the Impact of the Jewish People, and Connecting Jews Worldwide.

The secret sauce of the Jewish people, he muses, is our ability to rally for each other. “Even Winston Churchill was impressed by the Jewish idea of the collective, the idea he believed helped keep the Jewish people together through the ages,” Herzog said.