FEBRUARY 22, 2018 – Over the past five months, my partner Bar Argaman and I have served the Greater Boston Jewish community as young ambassadors for Israel, known in Hebrew as “Shinshinim.” Bar and I were selected to do a gap year of service in the Diaspora, sharing our perspectives and personal experiences as young Israelis, before our mandatory army service in Israel next year.
Now – after we’ve been here for a while – is the perfect time to take a moment and look back at what we’ve done so far. Bar and I are both 18. We graduated high school in Haifa last June and arrived here in the United States at the end of August. During the summer, we had some training by the Jewish Agency for Israel in Jerusalem, and still, when we got here we had no idea what to expect.
One of our main work sites is the Epstein Hillel School in Marblehead. When we first arrived at the school, it was a Friday and we had the opportunity to watch Kabbalat Shabbat. You could see how special the school was just by the number of parents who came to take part and also by the way the kids sang and participated.
A few days ago, we spent a Shabbat morning at Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott. We played Israeli childhood games with the students, and had a lesson with the sixth grade about Haifa, our hometown, to help them learn about their Israeli pen-pals as part of the CJP Boston-Haifa Connection school-to-school program. We also had the opportunity to talk to the congregants and share our experiences so far.
Then we joined the whole community in Kiddush and lunch. We met a lot of our students from the Epstein Hillel School, but I think my favorite part that morning was the questions the students and adults asked us.
One student asked us if you’re not allowed to sleep in Tel Aviv (because it’s the city that never sleeps); another student asked if the swimming pools in Israel were shaped differently. We were asked if it’s cool to say “Labriut” (Hebrew for “bless you”) when someone gives you a present and what we think is the most important thing to learn before you go to Israel for the first time. You really can’t find answers to these questions online. It showed the impact we have in the community.
One other opportunity we were fortunate to have was to visit St. John’s Prep School in Danvers to spend time with the Jewish Student Union. One of the topics we discussed was the coexistence between Arabs and Jews in Haifa. What made the lesson so unique was the fact that the Arabic Language and Culture Club also was invited, so we had both Muslims and Jews in the class. They showed a lot of interest in the programs that exist in Haifa that respect all cultures and provide people opportunities to create dialogue.
Being a “Shinshin” means representing Israel 24/7. It means to get silly with second-graders and answer all the adults’ hard questions an hour later. It means people will ask you for recommendations about the best hummus place in Haifa, and also ask you if you know their grandmother who lives in Rehovot. But mostly, it’s just being a part of this amazing community and bringing Israel to their day-to-day life and into their hearts.
On that note, we would like to thank all the wonderful people surrounding us: the CJP Boston-Haifa Connection staff and volunteers, and also to all our other amazing supervisors at our work places – schools and synagogues – that feel more like a home, and to our wonderful host families that opened their homes and hearts.