Israel’s Shinshinim program sends young volunteers to Jewish communities in the Diaspora for a year of service after high school. Ottawa’s first Shinshiniot will return to Israel at the end of the summer.
Noga Weiss and Canaf Ahituv, two Israelis who had recently graduated from high school, arrived in Ottawa last September as Ottawa’s first Shinshiniot.
After a year of myriad activities, Weiss and Ahituv are spending the summer working at Jewish overnight camps – Weiss at Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa and Ahituv at Camp Mossad, a Hebrew-speaking camp in the Laurentians north of Montreal – before they return to Israel.
The Shinshiniot spoke with the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin late last month before heading off to camp and said Ottawa has become their “second home.”
“When I came here,” said Weiss, “I knew it’s only for one year. But, now, I feel that I’ve created another world for myself – and I don’t know how to leave it.”
“This has been a formative experience,” added Ahituv. “I’m now open to new things and new perspectives.”
“As Shinshiniot, we could undertake almost any initiative we thought of,” said Weiss. “When we wanted to get involved somewhere, we just attended an event, made connections and started something new.”
One such initiative was the first Chag HaSigd celebration organized in Ottawa. Chag HaSigd, marked on Cheshvan 29, is the day Ethiopian Jews celebrate the Torah and pray to return to Zion. Held at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, the event included a traditional coffee and popcorn ceremony with the participation of Ethiopian Jewish families living in Ottawa.
Sarah Beutel, vice-president of community building for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, worked with the Shinshiniot throughout the year.
“For the community,” said Beutel, “Canaf and Noga brought a real piece of Israel and created a tangible connection with the country.”
Beutel cited the kibbutz model that Ahituv and Weiss created for the students of Ottawa Jewish Community School.
“This illustrated what it really means to live in a kibbutz, with a joint bank account, communal institutions, shared agricultural livelihood, and so on.”
Scott Goldstein, the Federation director of community collaboration, said nearly every Jewish day school, supplementary school and synagogue in Ottawa benefitted from programs with the Shinshiniot.
“The schools were grateful and impressed by how the two enriched school life,” he said.
“On Yom Hazikaron, for example, Canaf and Noga created a unique activity for Chabad Hebrew School where they presented cards to the children naming different emotions and asked about those emotions in daily life. Then, they asked the children to apply those emotions to bereaved families and to imagine how they must feel. This way, the children were able to understand this difficult subject, in a meaningful and holistic way.”
On their return to Israel, Weiss will begin her army service almost immediately, while Ahituv will attend a midrasha – a post-secondary school where women study Judaism – before she begins her army service.
The Shinshiniot said leaving Ottawa will be difficult.
“We love everyone so much and don’t know how to thank the community for everything it’s given us,” said Weiss.
During their year in Ottawa, Weiss and Ahituv lived with families in the community and said they especially wanted to thank the Ben-Choreen Freedman, Shapiro, Blum, Luden and Geist families who opened their homes and hearts to them.
A new pair of Shinshinim, Idan Ben Ari from Caesarea and Noa Gill from Haifa, will arrive in Ottawa on August 21 to begin their year of volunteer service with the Jewish community.