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Youth ambassadors set to boost Israel, Tucson connections

Danielle Levy, left, and Shay Friedwald (Courtesy Weintraub Israel Center)

Danielle Levy and Shay Friedwald, both 18, are Tucson’s teen Israeli ambassadors, or shinshinim, for the new year. They have just graduated high school and are among the 10 percent of students accepted out of about 2,000 who apply for this Jewish Agency for Israel global outreach program.

“I wanted to do something for my country,” says Friedwald.

For Levy, it’s an opportunity for “meeting the world, [to] experience something else.” As the time to leave Israel draws near, she says, “Sometimes I’m super excited and then I’m super stressful. It’s hard, it’s difficult, it’s like the biggest change that I have been doing.”

The pair will arrive on Aug. 2 and live in the United States for a year, hosted by the Weintraub Israel Center and the Tucson community. Levy and Friedwald will work with schools and synagogues as they help connect Israel and the Tucson community.

“Everyone sees Israel in a specific form,” says Levy. “I just hope to bring different perspectives and show how beautiful and amazing and different Israel is.”

Friedwald agrees: “You need to come to Israel and experience it. The sense of humor, the scenic, the Israeli spirit. It is different. I hope to bring my values, my sense of humor, and my Israelism to Tucson.”

The shinshinim application process involves a series of evaluations. Applicants are tested in group settings on teamwork, leadership, and teaching skills but are also evaluated based on personality and language acquisition.

“I was a little bit nervous,” Friedwald says, but was relieved when he passed the screening and moved onto the training program. Friedwald is looking forward to giving “as much as I can at this specific platform. I’m very excited.”

The word shinshinim is a Hebrew acronym for shnat sherut,  meaning “year of service.” Levy and Friedwald are Tucson’s fourth set of shinshinim. After their year in Tucson, they will begin their mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces with a deeper understanding of Jewish communities outside of Israel. But for now, the teenagers are preparing for the journey ahead.

Levy’s summer has been spent camping at the ocean, being with friends and family as much as possible, and packing for her year abroad. When she was younger, Levy lived in both Germany and Finland for a few years at a time. She graduated from high school with three majors: Arabic, German, and media and communications. Now, Levy says that she is excited to experience “the real world.”

“Where I live, you live in sort of a bubble. You live with the same people your entire life. We have everything really nearby,” says Levy. “It’s really homey because everyone knows each other. Each holiday we see everyone, we know everyone.

“I just feel like it’s coming out of the bubble,” she says.

Home, to Levy, is being with the people who she finds the most comfort with, where she can be herself and express herself the best way. When she comes to Tucson, she hopes to find a similar community.

“You create your own family everywhere you’ll be. That’s what I believe,” says Levy. 

There are many people Levy’s age who do the shinshinim program in her moshav, or cooperative community, in Israel Valley. None, however, have gone as far as Arizona.

A 10-hour time difference and about 7,500 miles separate Tucson and Israel, which is daunting to both Levy and Friedwald.

“My biggest fear is that I won’t get the chance to talk as much with my friends and my people and my family,” says Friedwald, who lives in Ramat Gan.

Friedwald discovered his desire to serve his country abroad on a visit to Baltimore, Maryland, where his brother was serving as a shaliach (emissary) at John Hopkins Hillel. In high school, Friedwald studied computer science and physics. He is a Scouts counselor in a camp program that strengthens youth communities.

In Tucson, Friedwald looks forward to working with Taglit, the Jewish Community Center’s program for young adults with physical and cognitive disabilities. A friend of his from Scouts has autism and Friedwald has enjoyed welcoming him into his tight-knit group of friends.

Eventually, they started a band with two others and called it “Dedos and Friends.” Friedwald plays the cajon, a box drum, and the band recently had its first performance.

“It was a music concert in a coffeehouse and the crowd was full and we broke the record for the people that got in. It was 130 people who came to our show. It was really fun,” he says.

Along with his musical talents, Friedwald hopes that his personality and passion for working with disabled kids and adults adds to his service as a shinshin. He has heard that Tucson’s Jewish community “gives you a place to give your everything” and is excited to share the Israeli “spiciness.”

“This is going to be a fantastic year,” he says.

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