In Israel, they call it the Shnat Sherut—a year of service after high school. The participants are ShinShinim, and one place they serve is right here in Toronto. Since 2006, over 500 families have opened their homes to ShinShinim in Jewish Toronto—the first city to pioneer this successful program shaping Jewish life globally, and today the largest ShinShinim program in the world.
In 2021, three of our ShinShinim were Maayan, Yahav, and Mika. Their backgrounds are as diverse as Israel itself: one from northern Israel, one from central Israel, one from southern Israel. Yet they share a common thread—a pre-existing connection to Toronto. Maayan was born in our city and visits every other summer. Yahav is from Eilat, one of UJA’s Israeli partner communities. He was part of the team at the UJA-supported Diller Teen Fellows program. Mika’s father worked at the Israeli consulate here. In fact, her family hosted ShinShinim in their home during the years they lived in Toronto.
Across a variety of Jewish institutions, ShinShinim offer programs that help local youth experience Israeli culture and life in a compelling, new way. Importantly, they are a living connection to Israel. They give young Jews in Toronto the chance to meet Israelis, ask questions, and spark a passion for all things Israeli that lasts a lifetime.
Because of UJA’s community-wide network of 100 institutions, we connect ShinShinim across a wide spectrum of Jewish life—from synagogues and schools, to summer camps and part-time programs. Maayan, who worked at the Toronto Heschel School, taught Grade 7 children about the Druze community in Israel. Mika helped lead a course on Israeli culture at TanenbaumCHAT, where students delved into what Israeli life is like, and had meaningful conversations about complex topics like politics.
“When I connect people to Israel, I don’t want it to stay at the surface,” says Mika. “ I want people to connect with what it means to be Israeli. I want them to have a face that they remember when they read headlines about Israel or hear about something happening in Israel.”
Mika shares the story of one Grade 4 student who attends the part-time Hebrew school at her shul. He knew nothing about Israel. But through Mika, he has learned so much. He peppers her with questions, asking about her life and how different it is. “I feel like now I’m his older sister,” she says, “and no matter what, I’ve made an effect on one person.” Thousands feel the meaningful effect of the ShinShinim’s presence: a new connection to Israel, and a new reason to love Israelis, all made possible by your gift.