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!