Noa Gil and Idan Ben Ari, recent high school graduates from Israel, arrived in Ottawa last August as Ottawa’s second pair of Shinshinim.
The Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Shinshinim program brings young Israeli emissaries – on a gap year between high school and military service – to Ottawa for a year of voluntary service where they help young people in Jewish schools, congregations and camps enhance their Jewish identities and ties to Israel.
After 10 months spent working with schools, Jewish agencies and congregations, Gil and Ben Ari were feted by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa with a pizza party, June 18, at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, and are spending the summer working as counsellors at Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa (CBB) before returning to Israel to begin their military service.
Gil describes her experience in Ottawa as a journey.
“I personally learned a lot about my Jewish identity with the community,” she said.
Ben Ari describes his time here as “unexpected and extremely interesting.
“I truly did not know what to expect of the culture and the people, so it was something totally different, in a good way,” he said.
The Shinshinim stay with host families from the community while they are here – becoming part of the families as they join them in their day-to-day lives and activities.
Gil said she found living with host families to be one of the most rewarding experiences of the year.
“To be hosted by people from the community, to speak only English at home, and to see how a Canadian family lives; it was different from an Israeli family, so that was really interesting,” she said.
Ben Ari said their relationships with the host families will continue – especially when family members visit Israel.
“There they will meet our families and come to our homes,” he said.
Scott Goldstein, director of Community Collaboration at Federation, said the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS) particularly embraced the Shinshinim program this year.
“They brought them in as team members to the faculty, so they were really a part of the school’s overall approach to engaging the students in meaningful ways, and that helped them serve as a living bridge between Israel and Ottawa,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein also said a big highlight of the Shinshinim’s experience was the relationships they developed at OJCS with the faculty and students.
“The kids have enjoyed spending time with Idan and Noa. They have developed personal relationships with these children, and found all these different opportunities to hang out and engage with them, and really bring up ruach.”
Ben Ari said he has mixed feelings about leaving Ottawa.
“It’s obviously very sad because we love the community. We feel part of it and we are very attached to it. But I miss all my family and friends back home, and I’m excited to start my next chapter.”
Gil said she feels the same.
“I am really sad to leave and say goodbye, but also really happy with the things we have achieved here during the year.
“We want to thank everyone that opened their hearts to us and allowed us to bring Israel to the community, and obviously to our host families and all the different people we worked with,” she said. “We will miss you, don’t forget about us!”
Ottawa will welcome a new pair of Shinshinim at the end of the summer.