Israel engagement is the process of connecting Jews in the Diaspora to Israelis and to the way of life in Israel. Israel engagement in Toronto is extremely effective and it remarkably changed my life. The main method of Israel engagement in Toronto is through the UJA’s ShinShinim program. ShinShinim are some of the brightest young Israeli 18-year-olds who delay their mandatory army service to come and volunteer in Toronto. There is a pair of ShinShinim in most Jewish institutions in Toronto, and in all conservative institutions. A pair of ShinShinim usually belong to a Jewish day school and to a Shul, this way the ShinShinim can reach out to as many Jewish families as possible and make them feel connected to Israel.
The most powerful level of Israel engagement you can get through the ShinShinim program is being able to host a ShinShin. In 2013, I was lucky enough to host a ShinShin, an 18-year-old boy named Barak. In order to explain the impact this had on me I must explain how engaged I was with Israel before and after hosting him.
Before I hosted Barak I liked Israel; I thought it was pretty. I didn’t know that many cities and I knew nothing about life over there. If there was a war in Israel my reaction would be “oh that sucks” and would move on quickly. If I heard my parents talking about Israel I wouldn’t care because it wasn’t a big part of my life. Since I hosted Barak I started to appreciate Israel for more than her beauty, but for her people, innovations, and importance. I made it my responsibility to learn about my homeland and all it has to offer, and the following year when there was a war in Gaza, I would fear because I had a personal connection to someone Israel. The Adath Israel Shul, where I go most Saturdays is privileged to have two amazing ShinShinim, Faran Raz and Ram Izraeli. Since the Shinshinim are closer to my age, it is easier to make connections with them. For example, I am stressed about University and they are stressed about the army!
Toronto does Israel engagement right because instead of the ShinShinim or Shlichim just telling us to blindly love Israel, they teach us to understand Israel; the good and the bad. Because of Israel engagement, the relationship I have with Israel is one of a “hug and wrestle” which means to love, but also think deeply about the things that aren’t so good about Israel. It is sort of how you treat a sibling; care and worry.
Through Israel engagement I am deeply connected to the land of Israel and I will always have a ShinShin brother whom I deeply care for. The ShinShinim program is not the only way Toronto utilizes Israel engagement. There are many other ways such as having a Shuk Machine Yehuda in Toronto once a year, and having a Walk With Israel where over 20 000 people show their support. Toronto does a very good job of engaging Israel and I think all other cities can learn from mine on how to properly connect Israel to the future of the Jewish people.