OCTOBER 18, 2018, GLOUCESTER – Let’s make this clear: Michal Sela and Sapir Uzan are ready for a good time. The two Shinshinim (back to that mouthful later) assigned to the North Shore are high energy Israeli teens who, two months into their U.S. adventure, seem ready to make the most of every encounter. Working with pre-school kids? “We try to fit the game to the age, so they’re excited about that.” Hanging out with non-English speaking seniors at a group for Holocaust survivors? “We loved them! And they had the greatest music – and folk songs.”
When the pair made a return visit to the JCC of the North Shore recently, Sapir described the reaction: “We’re like celebrities!” And Michal continued, “I had a hugging attack of twenty kids jumping on me!”
So what is this all about?
The girls, who graduated from high school this year, are part of a year-long program that brings Israeli teenagers to Jewish communities in the diaspora. The goal is for American Jews to learn about Israel in a personal way, and to form cultural connections. “We bring the culture; not the political part,” Sapir explains. “We are the Israel of now.”
For teens, they have the opportunity to learn about life in the diaspora, and how their experience compares with that of other Jews. The name, Shinshinim, (singular form Shin-Shin) is a Hebrew acronym for Shnat Sherut, which means Year of Service.
Many Israeli teens choose a year of service option between high school and the Armed Forces. The selection process for this particular program was highly competitive, and the preparation was stringent; it is obvious that these girls, in addition to being fun-loving, are focused and accomplished.
Michal comes from Haifa, and has been an instructor in the scouting movement. Sapir, who comes from Beit She’an, in the North, went to high school on a kibbutz, and was a fashion reporter and photographer. Both love cooking and hiking. Both are fluent in English.
Although there have been Shinshinim in the Boston area for four years, this is the first year the program has been based on the North Shore. The girls are living with families in Peabody and Marblehead; they will move to different families halfway through their stay. The program is sponsored by the CJP, and the Boston-Haifa Connection.
They will be working with Epstein Hillel School, the JCC of the North Shore, the North Suburban JCC, Temple Emanu-El, Marblehead, Temple Ahavat Achim, Gloucester, and Temple Shalom, Medford. They will put on programs, organize activities, and deliver lectures to groups that range from preschoolers through seniors. They are elated when elementary school kids learn a few words of Hebrew and try them out on the girls. They’re also eager to organize cooking demonstrations around hummus and shakshuka.
Right now, they are a little bit homesick, they are eager to see more of the United States, and they are worried about winter. But they’re confident that they will make an impression on our community: “We are just the right age,” they explain. “We’re not adults, so the kids respond to us.”
In their wake they will leave lots of kids and grown ups who will have a warm spot in their hearts for a couple of Israelis.
Watch their introductory video at YouTube.