Jewish continuity and deep connections with Israel are two sides of the same coin. To foster those connections, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle invests in bringing Israeli emissaries, shinshinim, to work for up to a year and shlichim to work for three months during the summer in the Puget Sound region. These young Israelis share their homeland’s vibrant culture, history, and traditions through one-on-one relationships, often with our community’s children, that are essential for developing a deeper understanding of the similarities that bind our communities together and the differences that enhance the tapestry of Jewish life around the world.
Now in its fourth year, the shinshinim program — a cooperative undertaking of the Federation, Jewish Agency for Israel, and local partners — has brought to our community Noam Rinat and Zohar Roditi. Noam is engaging with families at Congregation Beth Shalom and Seattle Jewish Community School. Noam’s hometown is Omer, bordering Be’er Sheva in Israel’s south. In high school, she studied chemistry, volunteered at senior citizens’ homes, and has been active with the Tzofim, the Israeli scouts.
Zohar, a native of the northern Israeli city of Afula, lying in the fertile Jezreel Valley, is engaging with Seattle Hebrew Academy and Minyan Ohr Chadash. Zohar’s majors in high school were Arabic language, theater, and agriculture. She was a guide in the B’nei Hamoshavim youth movement and has been active in other youth groups and student council.
Noam and Zohar sat down for an interview with the Federation to talk about their work as shinshinim and their experiences in Seattle. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are your goals for your year in the Shinshinim program?
Noam: I knew I wanted to do a gap-year program here or in Israel, something meaningful. I knew that American Jews don’t know too much about Israel. That inspired me to learn more about this program and to come here. I’m very happy to be in Seattle. I want to make connections with people in the community.
Zohar: I wanted the experience of living in a different place for a whole year. I love Israel and want to help my country create connections with the American Jewish community.
What are your impressions of Seattle?
Zohar: Community here is very different from Israel. In Israel, community is based on neighborhoods. Here, people go to shul to meet their friends. That’s very different.
Noam: People ask a lot about politics, but I try to tell my own story. It’s very diverse. There is a lot of love for Israel, but there are also some things they disagree with Israel about. People have certain thoughts, but I share with them the other side of the story.
What will you share about your experience back home?
Zohar: I will encourage people to establish relationships with American Jews. I see how different people here care about Israel and it’s important that they can say, “I know someone from Israel.”
Noam: I hope to influence people at home by giving examples of what I’ve done, share about this program, and make more communities aware of it so that it can have a bigger influence.
And just for fun, do you have any favorite American TV shows or movies?
Noam: I saw three episodes of The Office. It was very funny and very American.
Zohar: My family just returned home after visiting me. My mother was very excited to be in Seattle because of Grey’s Anatomy.
The shinshinim and shlichim program is an integral part of the Federation’s mission to create stronger connections between Jewish Puget Sound and Israel. Noam and Zohar are creating people-to-people relationships, the connections that are at the heart of building community and Jewish life.