ShinShinim Bring a Taste of Israel to Bialik

ShinShinim Bring a Taste of Israel to Bialik

May 24, 2023

As parents, we want our children to have access to the best possible education and experiences. As Bialik families, we want to provide students with the most cutting-edge Israel education. That’s why Bialik is thrilled to have a long-standing tradition of hosting ShinShinim at our school.

The ShinShinim are carefully-selected high school graduates from Israel, who choose to spend a gap year abroad, enriching their own and others’ perspectives on what it means to be an Israeli and what it means to be Jewish. They come here to share their deep love, care and knowledge of the Jewish homeland with Jewish children and adults alike in Diaspora communities.

One of the most valuable aspects of the ShinShinim program is the Mifgash — the opportunity for our students and families to get to know somebody who has grown up in a place that is dear to us all, while also immersing the ShinShinim in our vibrant Toronto Jewish community. This experience provides a chance for everyone to learn about the many shared values that the global Jewish community holds and to learn about the unique traditions that exist both in Israel and abroad. The ShinShinim program encourages us to ask questions and challenge our assumptions about what it means to be a Jew.

A major strength of this program is the opportunity for our students to learn from people closer to their own age. This year, we are fortunate to have Hila and Yuval at our Himel Branch and Yaara and Rom at our Viewmount Branch, all of whom have enriched our school experience. Each ShinShin brings unique passions and perspectives — Yaara through drama and theatre, Yuval through his immense creativity and humour, Hila through her strong care for environmentalism, and Rom through his influencer persona. Each has used these facets of their personalities to help our students develop a broader understanding of Israel and of the world through a modern lens.

Throughout the year, Rom, Yaara, Yuval and Hila have conducted countless workshops, teaching students aboutIsraeli culture — from food, music and slang to the popular concept of Israeli youth movements. In reflecting on their activities from this year, Yuval (from Himel) shares that for him, the most memorable moment of the year was setting up a Malabia stand in an Israeli Shuk celebration, because it was an opportunity for him to share with students his family’s Shabbat tradition to eat Malabi weekly as dessert. Yaara (from Viewmount) talks about the Eurovision song contest activity as her favourite, since she got to discuss Israeli Eurovision songs from different eras with students and engage in meaningful conversations about how Jewish and Israeli music culture has developed over time.

Outside of their regularly scheduled activities, the Bialik ShinShinim also take on active and leadership roles in school events and activities, such as our Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations, our Purim staff Spiel and carnival, countless Kabbalat Shabbat assemblies and our Yom HaZikaron ceremonies at both branches. Through diligent work, they have contributed immensely to the Ruach at Bialik, becoming mentors and friends to many. Undoubtedly, the bonds formed between the ShinShinim and our community will last long after they return to Israel.

Knowing that most ShinShinim arrive in Toronto without knowing anyone, establishing a loving support network for them is very important to help them feel welcome in our wonderful community. One way to do this is to become a host family and host a ShinShin in your home for a school term. Hosting a UJA ShinShin provides an opportunity to form meaningful and enriching relationships with the ShinShin and their family in Israel, introduce them to your lives as Jews in Canada, and gain perspectives on, and knowledge of their lives in Israel. The ShinShinim will quickly integrate into the family and become lifelong friends, and for our students, they are celebrities who make it cool to speak Hebrew in a fun, friendly and engaging way outside of the classroom.

When reflecting on his experience, Rom from Viewmount shares that his host family has had an incredible impact both on his ability to integrate into Toronto and also on his personal life and growth, becoming an inseparable part of whom he defines as his family. According to our Himel ShinShinit, Hila, her relationship with her host families has made her time in Toronto not only meaningful, but also life-changing. She identifies the connections that she has made with her host parents and siblings as a crucial component of her service year, and a channel that she could use to bring her authentic, informal self forward.

From the most up-to-date Hebrew jargon and slang to Israeli games and yummy recipes, all four of our ShinShinim report having left their mark in the hearts of all those whom they now call “Host-Aba,” “Host-Imma” and “Host-Achim.” Hosting a Shinshin is a meaningful experience for both host families and Shinshinim: there are few bonds stronger than those with whom we live.

Looking ahead to September 2023, next year’s ShinShinim have already been selected and are a fantastic group –– accomplished, bright, responsible, full of love for Israel and ready to bring Israeli culture and language into our community. And they need our help to find families who will welcome them and be happy to share this significant experience together. The hosting experience is fun, fulfilling and highly flexible, with the only technical requirements being a private room and a closet. There is also an opportunity to participate as reserve families who are in place when a temporary placement is needed and to receive a charitable donation tax receipt. If you’re considering hosting a Shinshin, I encourage you to take the leap and reach out to the school to learn more about this unique opportunity.

We are incredibly grateful to have ShinShinim at Bialik. Rom, Yaara, Hila and Yuval have been a fantastic addition to our school and their dedication and enthusiasm have brought a taste of Israel to our community while enriching the lives of our students. We are proud that our students and community continue to benefit from this unique opportunity since the day it was introduced to Toronto, and we are reassured knowing that this program is growing to include other institutions each year as it promises that it will continue for many years to come.

Adi Barel
Associate Director of Jewish Studies