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Shinshiniyot b’not mitzvah to precede farewell

Rotem Rapaport (L) and Ron Benacot cherish their year as Israeli emissaries to Tucson. (Courtesy Weintraub Israel Center)

Weintraub Israel Center’s shinshiniyot (Israeli teen emissaries), Ron Benacot and Rotem Rapaport, will be called to the Torah as b’not mitzvah Saturday, June 15 at Temple Emanu-El. 

“I had my bat mitzvah when I was 12,” said Benacot, “but where I grew up in Israel, it’s not common for girls to read the Torah, only boys.”

“The boys would’ve read the Torah at the age of 13 and have a party, and the girls would’ve only had the party at the age of 12,” said Rapaport.

“I made the decision together with Ron,” said Rapaport of the ceremony, “because we thought it will be a good experience to have before going back to Israel. When we had the opportunity I thought it will be a once-in-a-life-time chance and that I should take it.”

“Rabbi (Batsheva) Appel explained the process and we thought it could be a cool thing to do and to experience before going back to Israel,” Benacot added.

The girls’ parents will not be present for the event.  “But I hope a lot of my ‘Tucson family’ will come and my parents will get a video or watch live on FaceTime,” Benacot says. “I got very close to my Jewish identity this year and I know having a bat mitzvah here will be something I will never forget.”

“For me, this opportunity symbolizes the journey I’ve been through this entire year, opening up to new experiences, learning about the Jewish life from people that I love, and getting love and support from this amazing community,” says Rappaport. “This chance is a great way to summarize the year for me, and I couldn’t be more grateful for getting it. My parents fully support me from Israel, and they are proud of me for making this step. And I feel their love and support all the way from Israel to here.”

The shinshinim program brings Israeli spirit to people in Tucson and provides informal programming to build Jewish identity and educate children and adults about the land of Israel. The emissaries work with various agencies and synagogues during their year of service. After nearly a year in Tucson, Rapaport returns to Israel on June 30 and Benacot July 10. Following their year abroad, they begin military service in Israel.

There also is a farewell party for them on Tuesday, June 25, at the Tucson Jewish Community Center pool. “When I leave I will miss a lot of things but mostly the people here,” Benacot says. “The community here is amazing. People are nice and welcoming and I made friends for life. I hope a lot of them will come to Israel to visit me!”

Rappaport agrees. “Although there are a lot of great things that I love about Tucson, I think the thing I will miss the most is the people and the feeling of community. Every person I met is so welcoming and loving. Going through this year amongst these amazing people was the thing that I will miss and cherish the most, and it will be forever a piece in my heart.”

“I think that one of the moments that will always be in my heart is our last day at Tucson Hebrew Academy,” says Benacot. “The kids gave us notes that they made for us, the school and the teachers thanked us, and we got to thank them back. It was very sad and emotional, just like every last day I had in the different organizations around the Jewish community.”

The Shabbat morning service at Temple Emanu-El is at 10 a.m. All are welcome to join in celebrating with the shinshinyot, and stay for the kiddush lunch afterward. For more information, or to contribute to the dairy/vegetarian lunch, call 327-4501. The farewell pool party also is free, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the J, 299-3000.