The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s Shinshinim, Lior Bar and Or Shaham, expected to spend the past year educating people in Georgia about their love for Israel but didn’t know they would receive the community’s love in return.
The AJT spoke with the two young Israelis in mid-August about their hopes and expectations for their year in the Jewish Agency for Israel program before their military service. They have since worked with community organizations, synagogues and students to spread appreciation for Israel and strengthen ties between Atlanta and the Jewish state.
“The experience has been amazing,” Shaham said.
“I got to spend a year doing what I love while living far away from home in a new community, which gave me a whole new perspective of who I am and what I believe in,” Bar said.
Shaham and Bar worked with 10 Jewish organizations and programs in Atlanta, including day schools, Hebrew schools and high school programs spanning the denominations. They led activities that covered the Israel National Trail, celebrated the High Holidays and paid tribute to the 70th anniversary of Nov. 29, 1947, the day the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution to partition British Mandatory Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.
Bar and Shaham used flashlights to play “red light, green light” in the dark and symbolize how refugees slipped past the British to enter the land of Israel in 1947.
They spoke about the different geographies in Israel and the people who live there. Shaham, for example, described the arid Arava in the south, where she is from, while Bar described the Kinneret in the north and a cemetery there where her family is buried.
One event that the women said stood out to them was Simchat Torah at Congregation Or Hadash. Community members unrolled the entire Torah while dancing and singing, a celebration Bar and Shaham said they had not experienced.
Yet the Shinshinim said they were most surprised by the connections they made with so many people and families by working with institutions.
Shaham said, “To say hi to so many people and to see how much the community cares for Israel is amazing and not something we can take for granted.”
The two faced difficulties beyond a busy work schedule, such as being adults on their own for the first time.
“It was little challenges like going to the doctor’s office or maintaining our car. Being an adult is tough,” Bar said.
Shaham said the program is a great way to prepare young adults before they enter the Israel Defense Forces. “We had to quickly become adults, and even though we were independent in Israel, our parents were not here.”
Keeping up with all the organizations in Jewish Atlanta also was daunting.
“We had to work with so many people and remember their names, and because we only met with the different institutions once a week, we had to be amazing each time,” Shaham said.
Shaham and Bar’s time as Shinshinim will end in mid-August, and Federation will welcome eight new Israelis into the program. The two women said they are glad to have participated as Atlanta’s first Shinshinim and are grateful for the experience.
“I hope I have imparted my love for Israel, how much I appreciate it and how many facets it possesses,” Bar said. “It’s such a complex country, but the community loves Israel, and watching them discover other points of view was incredible.”
Both said they would recommend the program to their peers in Israel. “I think this program made me a better person,” Bar said. “I felt that I was exposed to so many people that I would not have otherwise met in any other place in the world, and I think coming to a different community makes you appreciate who you are and where you come from.”
“I just remember how many people I hugged, how many people were happy, and how many people recognized me and what I do,” she said. “I think that was one of the happiest events we attended, and I really felt a part of the community.”
Shaham said one memory she will take home is the day she and Bar returned from Israel after taking two weeks off in February. “Just coming back to Atlanta and seeing how everyone just missed us and noticed that we were gone was the moment I felt we were actually a part of something.”
The women said the experience helped them learn what it means to be Jewish outside Israel. “I definitely understand the connection between Israel and the Diaspora much better now,” Shaham said. “We love Atlanta and want to thank everyone involved in this program.”