Noa Gil and Idan Ben Ari – two recent high school graduates from Israel – arrived in Ottawa, August 24, to begin a year of volunteering in the Jewish community before returning to Israel for their military service.
Gil, who is from Haifa, and Ben Ari, from Caesarea, are Ottawa’s new shinshinim. The Shinshinim program sends young Israelis to Jewish communities in the Diaspora where they help form a gesher chai (living bridge) between Israel and Jewish communities around the world as they engage in various activities to enhance Jewish identity and affiliation to Israel.
Ottawa recently said farewell to Canaf Ahituv and Noga Weiss, the city’s first shinshiniot, who completed their year here last month.
“We were looking for emissaries with an open mind for all the populations and the settings in our community,” said Scott Goldstein, director of community collaboration at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, the community professional who supervises the Shinshinim program here. “Noa and Idan seemed like happy people who would work together well.”
“I’ve never been to Canada before, so I didn’t know how to imagine Ottawa,” said Gil. “As much as I’m worried about the weather, I’m also very excited that it is so different from Israel.”
This is the second visit to Canada for Ben Ari, but he is experiencing Ottawa and the coming Canadian winter for the first time.
The shinshinim stay with host families while they are here and become part of the families and their day-to-day lives. Gil is currently living with Elka and Avi Miller and their children while Ben Ari is with Eliana and Sasha Carsen and their children.
“Everybody is so nice and welcoming,” said Ben Ari, a few days after arriving in Ottawa. “People approach us all the time and introduce themselves; in Israel people rarely smile at you for no reason.”
Gil said she quickly noticed how different it is to be Jewish in Ottawa as compared to Israel where being Jewish “is a given.”
“People here need to put a lot of effort, money and time into being Jewish,” she said, noting that “Canada also has a great diversity of traditions and ways of practice that are hard to find in Israel.”
Both say that though they are slightly concerned about speaking English, “but I’m sure it’ll improve very quickly,” said Gil.
“We’re optimistic and positive,” about working in Ottawa’s Jewish community over the next year, said Ben Ari, while Gil added that they “are very excited and plan to do a great job.”