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Jewish Agency sending teen emissaries back to Israel, and to quarantine

(JTA) — Earlier this week, the Jewish Agency for Israel said it was committed to keeping its emissaries in the United States, even as other groups brought theirs home amid the rising coronavirus crisis.

But on Friday morning, with schools and synagogues across the country shuttering in an effort to curb the disease’s spread, the organization had to make a different decision.

Now, 150 “shinshinim,” teenagers who are working in the U.S. during a gap year after high school and before beginning their Israeli army service, are getting ready to board planes and return to Israel, where they will spend two weeks in quarantine before joining their families for Passover.

The shinshinim live in the homes of local Jews, and with their work suspended and many families hunkering down at home, keeping them in place began to feel unsustainable, agency officials said.

“We’ve been deeply moved by the extensive efforts made in recent weeks by their supervisors, host families and Federation partners – the people who are the heart of this wonderful program – to accommodate our shinshinim in these challenging times,” Jewish Agency CEO Amira Ahronovitz wrote in a letter announcing the decision. “However, the responsibility for the wellbeing of the shinshinim ultimately rests on The Jewish Agency.”

Most of the Jewish Agency’s other 250 emissaries in the United States, young adults who are teaching American Jews about Israel after completing their army service, are remaining in place. Many are launching online activities to replace in-person gatherings they had planned.

Earlier this week, the agency brought home seven emissaries who had been working in Westchester County, the site of a cluster of coronavirus cases in the Jewish community. Others working in Italy and Budapest have also gone home.