Israel in San Diego

by Jacqueline Bull July 26, 2018


amit-and-michal-004This August, shinshinim are coming to San Diego for the first time.

“I heard about this program three or four years ago when I was at an Israel and Overseas conference in Toronto that was put on by the Jewish Federations of North America … I participated there and that’s where I really first heard about the program and the impact that the program has had over the years from various professionals who spoke. I said then that this was something I wanted to bring to San Diego. And it just took awhile to get it here. I’m thrilled because I’m retiring in December of this year and it is kind of like the one thing I wanted to do to leave a legacy was this program. I’m beyond belief happy that we were able to do it,” said Jane Fantel, Director of  Israel Connections for San Diego’s Jewish Federation.

The shinshinim coming to San Diego are two 18-year-old girls Amit Katz, from San Diego’s partnership region of Sha’ar HaNegev and Michal Sharon from the Lower Galilee region. They will be living with host families and working at several organizations in San Diego including Kavod Charter Elementary School, Temple Solel, Seacrest Village, Congregation Beth Israel, the Lawrence Family JCC and even spending next summer at Camp Mountain Chai as counselors.

“They’ll both be working at Kavod Elementary Charter school during the day, and then they are going to be working at various organizations after school. One, Amit, will be working with Congregation Beth Israel. And Michal will be working at Temple Solel. And there they will be working in various capacities, but primarily they’ll be working with teens and youth,” Jane said.

Religious School Director for Temple Solel, Ellen Fox said, “Michal will be teaching, helping children with Hebrew, assisting in the planning and facilitating of programs, and working with our youth groups.”

he reason the Jewish Agency runs this program was to try to deepen the connection and bridge –if you will – the diaspora Jewish community in terms of understanding one another. And how understanding each other helps support one another and deepen that connection with each other,” Jane said.

On an individual level, “I want them to have a really personal and deep connection for one year when they’re in San Diego to take back with them for the rest of their lives. And to feel like they made an impact,” Jane said.

Amit has actually been to San Diego twice before – once at Camp Mountain Chai and once as a part of the Madrichim delegation. “I knew that this year I would love to be a shinshin in the diaspora, and when I found that I’ll be sent to San Diego, I was so happy. For me, being a shinshin is to bring Israel closer to San Diego and share your own story. [It] is to get involved and learn about the community, and meet new people, so when I’ll return to Israel, I could bring back stories and perspective of the people in the community.”

Michal said it was a big honor to be a shinshin and that she is excited to come to San Diego and build great friendships. “I decided to be a shinshin because the connection between Jewish people overseas and Israelis is very important to me,” she said.

“I would love to bring the Israeli spirit and culture with my activities and my personal story. I am so happy to have the chance to get to know the culture of the Jewish community in San Diego and to share it with my community in Israel … I believe that the Jewish people need to be united even if we live in different countries,” Michal said.

This idea of unity and understanding each other is a common thread between what all parties involved hope for the program.

Jane adds that it is important for Israelis to understand the role that Jews outside of Israel play and their needs and wants for Israel. “By that I mean religious pluralism is something that all of us here in the diaspora – certainly in North America – take for granted, right? That notion of religious pluralism is not taken for granted in Israel, and it is a big struggle as we all know. So when these young people can come back and say ‘I get why the Kotel issue is so important to diaspora Jews,’ it makes them more sensitive to our issues. And as they grow up, and as they become leaders in Israel – and maybe some of them will even become leaders politically – knowing some of this stuff, the issues that are important to us, can only be helpful to Israel as it’s moving forward as it is evolving …These voices are the ones that we want heard when these issues of religious pluralism come up in Israel. They will understand it, they will get it and they will be our advocates.”

“So I think from Israel’s point of view, ‘Why are they so invested in this program?’ is I believe they think as the Jewish Agency, that these people will come back and these will be the next leaders in Israel. And if we’re talking about a strengthened shared vision of an Israel, these are the game changers. These are the people that are going to be able to articulate to the rest of Israel the role we play, the issues we have, and how do we become more sensitive to each other’s concerns moving forward, so I think from their perspective, this is why they are invested,” Jane said.

And from the perspective of the communities that the shinshinim come to and stay, “For us, having a program like this is bringing Israel to San Diego. And it is not only bringing it for our youth who need it the most – when you think about what is going on college campuses today –but it is bringing it to the institutions that we support in this community (schools, synagogues, places where seniors reside, camps).

“All of this is important to bring Israel to those people so that especially for people to understand ‘What does a typical Israeli care about? What are his or her issues? What keeps her up at night? What does it mean to be going into the army? What does it mean to live in a country — or for Amit who lives in Sha’ar HaNegev — what does it mean to grow up where you are constantly showered with rockets from your neighbors?’ All of this is so important for our community to understand and no better way to do it then to meet with an Israeli,” Jane said


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