One grew up in the urban streets of Rishon LeZion; the other was raised on a moshav. Together, Israeli high school graduates Or Shaham and Lior Bar are determined to share everything they know about Israel as Atlanta’s new shinshinim during a service year before they enter the Israeli army.
The Shinshinim program, supported by the Jewish Agency for Israel in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, invites young Israelis to share their love and knowledge of the country through various organizations, synagogues and Jewish day schools while fostering a greater understanding among youths between the two communities.
“I have all this experience that I am bringing with me from Israel which is deeply imprinted in my life and personality, and having this opportunity to be a part of Shinshinim allows me to share that with a second Jewish community,” Bar said. “It allows people to see me, my perspective, and hopefully to enrich theirs.”
Although this is not Bar’s first time visiting the United States, as she previously lived in Mexico, Atlanta has grown on her.
“It’s a big difference, as I am used to walking past multiple buildings and crowded areas, compared to open spaces and vast yards; however, it is also very beautiful,” she said.
Shaham added, “Living in the States is much different from traveling through, as you have to work, possess your own car and are staying with host families, but it’s something I look forward to embracing as it is very different from living on a moshav.”
During their stay, Shaham and Bar hope to foster a love of Israel in as many youths as possible by establishing friendships and partnering with various organizations, including the Atlanta Jewish Teen Initiative.
“We wanted to create a pilot that would include specific organizations the girls could visit. Since we can’t send everyone to Israel, we figured we can bring a little bit of the country here,” said Roey Shoshan, who is leading Shinshinim locally as Federation’s director of Israel and overseas initiatives.
Moving forward, the young women hope to be resources for community members across Atlanta.
“I think that meeting someone from Israel, hearing their story and connecting with them will enhance their point of view in the long run,” Bar said.
In addition to shifting viewpoints, they hope to generate closer ties to Judaism within the community.
“We represent something that people may not often see within the States, but learning from each other will bring us closer,” Bar said.
“I hope people remember us the next time they hear or read something about Israel and possibly have a different perspective,” Shaham said.
Bar learned about Shinshinim through her older sister, who did not participate in the program but piqued Bar’s interest. “I realized that this is something that could really enrich my life while I gave something and received something back in return.”
Shaham was already familiar with shnat sherut, which similarly sends high school graduates to conduct one year of community service before entering the Israel Defense Forces. She discovered the Shinshinim program through a youth delegation while visiting a Jewish community in Melbourne, Australia.
“I really wanted to participate in a similar program and meet people who are in some ways similar and in some ways different from me while creating new connections” Shaham said.
The shinshinim, who were selected out of 40 applicants based on how well they would fit the community, will stay with host families for four months at a time.
“I know the community well and sought to pick two individuals which would work well together and complement each other,” Roey Shoshan said.
Bar said the application process includes 2,000 to 3,000 people, as indicated by the Jewish Agency for Israel, and involves seven months of screenings, interviews and sorting to narrow the group down to 113 people for 28 communities.
With their different personalities, Shaham and Bar are pioneers, shaping how the Shinshinim program will work and be perceived in the future.
“Their experience is just as important for us as it is for them,” Roey Shoshan said. “They are also taking a part of Atlanta’s community back with them, and I can’t think of a better way to support the Federation. This is not a question of religion, but the state of Israel, a conversation we are here to help change and share.”
The Shinshinim Program is looking for host families. If you are interested in hosting a shinshin or know of a family who would be interested, contact Federation’s Israel and overseas director, Roey Shoshan, at 404-870-1869 or firstname.lastname@example.org.