GLOUCESTER – As Michal Sela and Sapir Uzan prepare to return to Israel in mid-June, the 19-year-olds are enjoying the same blur of fun, learning, and teaching – and laughing and singing – that has been emblematic of their time since they arrived last September.
The Israeli women are part of the Shinshinim Young Ambassadors Program, which is a partnership between Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Boston-Haifa Connection and the Jewish Agency for Israel. The word “Shinshinim” comes from the Hebrew acronym for year of service, and since the early fall, the two Israeli cultural ambassadors have been active at six sites north of Boston.
At Epstein Hillel School in Marblehead, they helped with projects about Israeli artists and the Israeli space program. At the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead, they taught conversational Hebrew, Israeli games, and made Israeli food. At the North Suburban JCC in Peabody, they taught five-year-olds their first Hebrew words. At Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead, they made bourekas and showed a film in which the stuffed pastries figured in the plot. At Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester, they made hummus, and also read and talked about a favorite Israeli children’s book. And at Temple Shalom of Medford, they taught kids about places in Israel, including making a human map.
In addition, they have sung with Russian-speaking Holocaust survivors, talked to students at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, and attended conferences and other gatherings.
Most importantly, they have made deep connections. Since their arrival, Michal and Sapir have each lived with four local families for half their stay – three in Marblehead and one in Peabody. When the women return home – Michal to Haifa, and Sapir to Beit She’an – they will enter the Israel Defense Forces.
“These kids are amazing,” said Ruth Budelmann, CJP supervisor, who also served as the girls’ surrogate mother during their time on the North Shore.
The idea behind the program is that Americans – and particularly young Jews – would learn about Israeli culture from the approachable Israelis. In turn, the Israelis would learn about life in the Diaspora. For example, shortly after their arrival, the pair was embarrassed by their Israeli accents. But their preschoolers adopted those accents, and started giving lessons on how to apply them. The girls have decided that their accents – like the kids – are cute.
“They’ve made fabulous connections with students of all ages. They’re very creative in the ways they’re getting Israel to come alive with our students,” said Epstein Hillel Head of School Amy Gold. “Because Yom HaZikaron [Israeli Memorial Day] and Yom HaAtzmaut [Israeli Independence Day] are back to back, they had a lesson about the Israeli Armed Forces. All the students made these little dog tags and put their names on them in Hebrew. It was something small that made a very big difference.”
The two women will not soon forget their time in the United States.
“Yes, we’re happy to go home, but we’ll be sad to leave,” said Sapir. “We have a new life here, all the people we didn’t know before. It’s being the America life.” Added Michal, “Our life in Israel will never be the same. Things that we learned here, the people we met here; it will be forever.”
The program is looking for host families with high school-age children for next year. If you are interested, contact Ruth Budelmann at RuthB@cjp.org.