Noga Weiss and Canaf Ahituv, two Israeli teenagers who recently graduated from high school, arrived in Ottawa, September 12, opening a new chapter in Israel-Diaspora relations for Canada’s capital.
Weiss and Ahituv are part of Israel’s Shinshinim program and will be volunteering in the Ottawa Jewish community for a full year. The Shinshinim program – which is derived from the Hebrew words shnat sheirut (year of service) – involves sending Israelis to volunteer in Jewish communities around the world, bridging cultural divides and providing Jews in the Diaspora with an opportunity to interact with young Israelis on a personal level.
This is the first time Ottawa’s Jewish community has participated in the Shinshinim program. Hosting the Shinshinim allows for the chance to interact with real Israelis and, therefore, provides an opportunity for the youth in the Jewish community to begin connecting with the State of Israel on a more personal level, said Sarah Beutel, director of community collaboration at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.
Prior to leaving Israel, Shinshinim undergo two weeks of intensive training from the Jewish Agency for Israel on topics ranging from Zionism to team building and from Jewish identity to cultural differences. Over the course of the next year, Weiss and Ahituv will be volunteering at the Ottawa Jewish Community School, Camp B’nai Brith, the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, and at various synagogues and Jewish supplementary schools.
In phone interviews with the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin before leaving Israel, Weiss and Ahituv said they are extremely excited to visit Canada for the first time and they can’t wait to begin volunteering in Ottawa’s Jewish community.
While Ahituv, who’s from the small town of Mitzpe Netofa in the Lower Galilee, has briefly travelled to the United States, she mentioned she’s more eager to visit Canada because her grandfather told her how nice and polite Canadians are.
“I’m really looking forward to building relationships with the community,” she said.
Weiss, who’s from Haifa, echoed Ahituv’s sentiments and said she’s particularly excited to show Canadians the fun side of Israeli culture.
“I think that we have Israeli chutzpah … and I’m really looking forward to showing that side of Israeli culture to Canadians,” Weiss said.
“I’m also looking forward to seeing how people in Canada act towards each other – which I’m guessing is politely and calmly,” she joked.
While both confessed they’ll miss Israel, particularly their families, friends and the weather, they’re both certain they’ll feel welcome in Ottawa.
Asked why they joined the Shinshinim program, they said that experiencing a different culture while giving back to the community and representing Israel from abroad was one of the most meaningful things they could do at their age.
“I really love bringing ‘my Israel’ everywhere I go as something to do before the army. I thought it would be good service to my country,” Weiss said.
After their year in Ottawa, both Shinshinim will return to Israel to begin their military service.