The best way to connect with Israel and the Israeli people is to travel there. The next best way is to get to know shinshinim, emissaries who are spending a year in the Jewish Puget Sound area sharing Israeli culture, building relationships, and strengthening the ties of mishpacha that connect MOTs.
The shinshinim program is a cooperative effort of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and local partners. Now in its fifth year, the program brings bright young adults to infuse Israel into local Jewish life. This year, shinshinim Mor Amram and Abaye Singer are working at Congregation Beth Shalom, the Seattle Jewish Community School, and the Stroum Jewish Community Center, where they are leading activities for children and teens to build relationships with Israeli people and culture. Mor comes to Seattle from Eilat, the sun-soaked resort at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba. Abaye, who grew up in the United States and then moved to Israel, is from Kibbutz Ma’ale Gilboa, at the summit of Mount Gilboa in Israel’s north.
Mor and Abaye share their thoughts about working as shinshinim and building connections between the Seattle and Israeli communities.
What interested you in working as shinshinim, and what are your goals?
Mor: To be a part of community, to be the Israeli friend for youth and people to connect with Israel. To be an influence, the way to do it is to be friends.
Abaye: I want to make personal connections and through personal connections to get people to come to Israel.
How would you describe the impact of your work on the local Jewish community?
Mor: The big impact that my work in the local Jewish community has, in my opinion, is the great and real connection that I have with lots of kids, teens, and adults. I think that these connections are giving me the opportunity to really get into deep conversations about the connection to Israel.
Abaye: I would say that I am hoping to make an impact mostly by bringing my story and my Israel to the community here. There is so much to talk about politics and the conflict in Israel, and I am trying to bring a more personal, genuine side of Israel that I live day to day.
What do people want to know about Israel?
Mor: Right now, the one big thing is the food culture. Everyone thinks that all we eat is falafel. There are lots of special cuisines. People want to learn more about life in Israel, about the things they imagine about Israel from what they see in the news or on social media. They see Israel as very different. Yes, Israel and America are different, but we live normal lives.
Abaye: I want people to know it’s a very advanced country and that it’s not all a war zone. The biggest difference in culture is that in America, people are polite and nice but not too personal with people they don’t know. In Israel, everyone is family. You tell people what you think even if you don’t know them. But everyone is family and they want to help.
What are your impressions of Seattle?
Mor: People are really open and accepting of everyone. I’m 100 percent comfortable speaking to people on the bus or in public. There’s no judging. I tell people I’m Jewish and Israeli and they say, “Oh wow, tell me more!” It’s an open community. They accept all the diversity of people here.
Abaye: The biggest thing is how hard it is to be Jewish here. It’s an effort. In Israel, we live a Jewish life. Here, you have to put in a lot of effort, you have to take vacation days for holidays. I live on a kibbutz, so the city is very different. I’m used to walking around and knowing everyone.
Just for fun, do you have any favorite American TV shows or movies?
Abaye: When I get home, I’ve been so busy, I just want to watch something, so I’ve been watching The Office. There is much more selection on Netflix here than in Israel. That’s very exciting!
Mor: All day, I think in English and speak English, so after a long day, I like watching Israeli TV — Beauty and the Baker. It’s available on Amazon Prime in Hebrew and in English.