In spring 2015, the Jewish Federation brought Israelis Matan Aizen and Shavit Guttel, both 19, to the Seattle area for one year as part of the Shinshinim program, which helps diaspora Jews learn about Israel through personal interaction. Matan and Shavit teach Hebrew and religious school at Temple De Hirsch Sinai and Congregation Beth Shalom, respectively, and will work at URJ Camp Kalsman and Solomon Schechter this summer.
“Matan is building relationships and connections with Israel and Israelis stretching beyond simplistic newspaper headlines,” says Rabbi Aaron Meyer of Temple De Hirsch Sinai. “Shavit taught a class on Hebrew poetry and wowed with her insight and teaching ability,” Rabbi Adam Rubin says.
In an interview with the Federation, Matan and Shavit discuss their impressions of everything from Seattle’s Jewish community to their lives in Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and American slang.
RACHEL ROMÁN: What is your impression of the Jewish community in Seattle?
Matan: I love Temple De Hirsch Sinai’s congregation. They are loving and welcoming. I was pretty scared of going to a really big city, like New York or even Tel Aviv, because I’m from a small village (Shimshit, northwest of Nazareth). When I got here, I said, “I’ve gone to the right place.” It’s still a big city, so you have a lot to do, but it’s so quiet and the people are so nice. I feel like I’m in a really big kibbutz because everyone knows each other.
Shavit: People at Beth Shalom are really welcoming and interesting. Since I’ve gotten here, I’ve had the opportunity to sail on a boat three times and fly an airplane once.
RR: Considering everything that is going on in Israel, how do you feel about being here?
M: It’s hard.
S: You’re more worried.
M: Yeah, you’re more worried because of the media.
S: I feel like they are showing us everything that’s kind of from a bloodthirsty point of view. It makes me feel really worried about my family, knowing that there’s nothing I can do, while they are fine and not that scared.
M: A lot of time, because of the time differences, we go to sleep with the news that an Israeli was injured or an Israeli was stabbed. A week ago, I went to bed with the news that an IDF soldier got stabbed and badly injured in Hebron. I woke up and realized it was a very good friend of mine. He’s out of the hospital now and getting back to his routine.
RR: I went to Israel last summer and noticed an intense patriotism. Everyone told me that I needed to return.
M: That’s a part of the greatness of Israel. We love people. What’s beautiful about it is when there’s war or citizens in need, the whole country unites as one. When I was around 13 years old, we had the second Lebanon War. My house was at the danger line. We got invited by so many people to the center of Israel and to the south. If you were from the north, you could get free meals at some restaurants.
S: We hosted a family that was really close to Lebanon. They stayed with us for a couple of weeks (in Tzur Hadassah, a suburb of Jerusalem). We had no idea how long they would be with us, but there’s an understanding that if someone needs help, you give it to them.
Are you getting the hang of American slang?
M: I’ve been hearing “savage” a lot since I’ve gotten here.
S: There’s another one that also means “awesome.”
M: “Dope!” It’s called “dope.”
S: They use it every five words.