Near the end of the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle’s president and CEO, Keith Dvorchik, met with Rabbis Jill Borodin of Congregation Beth Shalom and Aaron Meyer of Temple De Hirsch Sinai to discuss the conflict’s impact on Seattle. The fighting had not only fractured Israel, but also was dividing the Puget Sound Jewish community.
The three decided bringing Israelis to the Puget Sound region would help heal community rifts by giving local Jews a chance to learn more about Israel through personal interactions with people who live there. The next step was a partnership in the Shinshinim program with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). Shinshinim are teen emissaries sent abroad to expose people to Israel and Israeli culture. A number of synagogues and camps were asked to take part in the program, and Congregation Beth Shalom, Temple De Hirsch Sinai, Camp Solomon Schechter, and URJ Camp Kalsman elected to participate.
“The idea and program came out of a collaborative conversation. We worked together to find a model that would work for everybody,” Dvorchik says. “You can have these really interesting, exciting discussions with somebody who becomes a friend, rather than a speaker or someone who’s lecturing you or reading a book. It can become a real personal kind of connection with Israel.”
On September 1, Matan Aizen and Shavit Guttel, both 17, will arrive for a one-year stay. They will work with the participating synagogues and camps to create Judaic and Israel-centered content and programs, ranging from helping with Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations to serving as Hebrew school conversation partners.
“I’ve been waiting for a long time to be a shinshin, since I love working with kids and teens,” Aizen says. “The fact that I’ll be in Seattle makes the dream coming true even better.”
The shinshinim were selected from competitive applications and boast impressive résumés, including volunteer service and academic achievements. Guttel was a Bronfman Fellow, a program that identifies future Jewish leaders in the U.S. and Israel and engages them in intensive exploration of social responsibility, pluralism, and text study. Aizen has volunteered with B’nei HaMoshavim, a youth Zionist organization, and has served as a seventh- and eighth-grade counselor.
“When I heard that I’ll be going to Seattle, I was more than excited,” Guttel says. “I have heard so many wonderful things about Seattle: the breathtaking nature, great music, tasty food, and, of course, the lovely people.”
Guttel lives in Tzur Hadassa, outside Jerusalem. Her family has nine children, including two foster children and an adopted lone soldier (a serviceman or woman who does not have parents in Israel). She graduated this year from a religious girls’ school in Jerusalem and hopes to attend Bezalel, a prestigious Israeli arts school.
Art, including drawing and photography, is an inspiration for Guttel, who said she couldn’t wait to watch kids and teens at Congregation Beth Shalom and URJ Camp Kalsman “be inspired by Judaism and Israel and express themselves through their art.”
Aizen is from Yifat, a kibbutz in Galilee. He will work with Temple De Hirsch Sinai’s religious school and will entertain kids at Camp Solomon Schechter next summer. If Aizen doesn’t have a guitar strapped around his shoulder conducting a sing-along with friends or the children of B’nei Moshavim, you can find him taking pictures or acting on stage. The eldest of three children, Aizen is most excited to share his passion for Zionism and Judaism.