Five years ago, Noam Trock decided she wanted to join the Shinshinim program, which sends Israeli teens to volunteer in Jewish communities around the world. Her sister had left Israel for Johannesburg as part of the program, and Trock was inspired.
“Seeing the impact that the community in Joburg had over her, and … seeing the impact that she had over the community, made me realize, back then, that this is what I want to do,” said Trock, who is from Haifa in Israel.
The teens serve as Shinshinim during a gap year between high school and their military service. When it was Trock’s turn to be a part of Shinshinim, the program sent her to Baltimore in September 2020.
Trock, along with five other Israelis, have spent months working with Baltimore synagogues and other Jewish institutions. The teens are heading off to work at different sleep-away camps for the summer, with the whole program set to end by August. The Macks Center for Jewish Education, which oversees the Shinshinim in Baltimore, held a goodbye party for the teens on June 7.
“The whole goal of a Shinshinim is to bring Israel to Jewish communities outside of Israel and to strengthen relationships between Jewish people in the world and Israelis,” said Yam Agami, one of the Shinshinim teens who is from Vardon.
The teens teach classes about Israeli culture, society and history, with the goal of establishing a personal connection between Israel and non-Israelis.
“Mainly, I would say, just bond with people and have them feeling that they know someone from Israel, that they have a home and friend in Israel,” Agami said.
While here, the Shinshinim have worked at different synagogues and Jewish institutions such as Krieger Schechter Day School and Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation’s Sunday school program. They have worked with a wide swath of grade levels, said Tamar Maor, a Shinshinim from Hod HaSharon, noting that she herself had worked with both preschoolers and adult learners. Class sizes for the Shinshinim normally ranged from 15 to 30 students, said Zohar Shinehorn, a Shinshinim from Yehud. In a departure from previous years, the pandemic forced many of their presentations to be held via Zoom, Agami said.
“I can tell you that [fellow Shinshinim Ofir Yasur] and I also did [a] few things that are very creative, and we wore costumes and stuff like that for class to bring Israel in a more fun way to the students,” Agami said. “Ofir and I, we had a really meaningful activity with middle school students, about being an Israeli teenager. We were talking about how is it like to grow up in Israel, to be part of youth movements, … about the security situation in Israel and other things that bring people together.”
Other activities the Shinshinim put together included a virtual escape room and an event for Sigd, an Ethiopian Jewish holiday, said Trock.
The group of six Shinshinim have been staying with different host families, many of them in Pikesville or Owings Mills, usually for a period of between two to five months before moving in with a different host family.
All of the Shinshinim arrived in the U.S. between September of 2020 and January, said Trock.
All six have also been to the U.S. previously, said Maor. For Yasur, who is from an urban kibbutz in Sderot, the transition to life in the U.S. was more of an adventure than a challenge.
“It was new, it was exciting, and [for] me personally, I really didn’t think it was hard on me for any reason,” Yasur said.
For Trock, it was striking to be in a city where Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut received little attention compared to where she grew up, she said. While working at Ohr Chadash Academy, she participated in a festival for Yom Ha’atzmaut.
“Here it was an amazing festival [in] the morning,” Trock said. “And then we came back home, and it was exactly the same [as] the day before. But in Israel, because everyone are celebrating it, and you’re walking down the street … it has a whole different atmosphere, different mood.”
Agami was particularly moved by the reactions she’d received from students after she was invited to speak with them about the violence that had been taking place in Israel in the spring. Afterward, the students began following her on Instagram and texting her directly to discuss the conflict.
“I was really excited by the fact that they reached out to me and felt comfortable enough to talk to me about this really big problem or conflict,” Agami said. “I really felt like I had the opportunity to explain the Israeli side or just my side of the story, and I felt it’s a really big impact.”