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Shinshinim Atlanta

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.