If your heart longs to visit Israel, but time doesn’t allow, consider the opportunity to bring a vibrant piece of Israel to your home. The Shinshinim Young Ambassadors Program sends Israeli high school graduates to communities all over the world to work in Jewish educational and cultural institutions (see azjewishpost.com/2016/israeli-teen-emissaries-to-be-newest-link-in-tucson-israel-chain/). Several local families have been hosting the first two of the program’s emissaries in Tucson, Bar Alkaher and Leah Avuno.
Tamir and Naomi Weiner, with their two younger children, Yonatan, 17, and Téa, 15, hosted both Israeli teens at the start of the school year. “We found this to be a good cross-cultural experience for our kids,” says Tamir, “and a nostalgic one for me and Naomi.” Both Tamir and Naomi had spent years in Israel working with youth groups and benefiting from the support of host families. In all they spent nearly a decade living in Israel in the 1980s and ’90s. They say participating in the Shinshinim program allowed them to actively demonstrate their commitment to Israel.
“While our big kids had visited Israel with teen programs,” says Naomi, “Yoni and Téa have not, so having both Shinshinim in our home allowed us to give them an ‘Israeli experience.’ Plus it was nice for our kids to have surrogate siblings around who are close to their own age.”
Naomi explains that the young Israelis work really long hours in the community and don’t have a great deal of free time to go out and develop social connections. “Even though Leah and Bar are very mature at 18 and 19,” says Naomi, “they are still kids who are far from family and friends and their own country. They need our support and to feel that they belong and are wanted. Providing them a supportive home was the important thing for us to offer them, especially given how much they enriched our family life.”
Oshrat and Eli Barel, with their three children, Yuval (16), Ronnie (13) and Shira (6) are currently hosting Shinshinit Leah Avuno. Oshrat is the director of the Weintraub Israel Center and she administers the Shinshinim program in Tucson. Though the Barel family is Israeli, they are now into their fourth year of living in Tucson. Oshrat says that having an engaging and dynamic Israeli teen in their household has been a great benefit for her kids, especially for Shira, who has lived most of her life in Tucson. Demonstrating the successful integration of Leah into their family, Shira recently declared, “Now I have three sisters!”
Kris and Ben Silverman, with their teens, Bernie (19), Max (17) and Sophie (13), have been hosting Shinshin Bar Alkaher in their home for the second part of his year in Tucson. Kris says that the experience has been a real boon to their household: “We are an extremely busy family and yet having Bar stay with us made our lives fuller. We’ve increased the number of meals that we sit down to together and having Bar at our table has broadened our dinner conversations.”
Kris says that having Bar in their home has rekindled their interest in Judaism and motivated them to visit Israel as a family this summer. “He’s even been tutoring me to help me brush up on my Hebrew,” she adds.
Kris says that she has been impressed with Bar’s maturity, self-sufficiency and his well-spoken poise. “If Bar is a representative example of the kids that the program sends, then families thinking of doing this next year will find that it’s really easy.”
The Weintraub Israel Center is looking for families who have room in their hearts and houses to host an Israeli teen for a minimum three-month commitment next year. The Shinshinim will have their own transportation. For more information, contact Oshrat Barel at 577-9393, ext. 132.
Renee Claire is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson.