Bringing a Taste of Israel to Cleveland

In Israel, there is a tradition of young people volunteering to travel to another Jewish community on the other side of the world to be ambassadors or emissaries. They are called shlichim, and they bring Israeli culture and traditions to Jews around the world. In Cleveland through the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s Overseas Connections Committee (OCC) and with the help of our beneficiary agency, @akiva High School, we brought six shlichim to Cleveland this year to educate school-aged children, teens, and young adults throughout Jewish Cleveland on Israeli life and culture.

“Bringing shlichim to Cleveland for this one year strengthens our community’s connection with Israel. It enhances the vibrancy and diversity of the Jewish community, and helps foster understanding about Israel in the Jewish and wider community,” said Ilanit Gerblich Kalir, Managing Director of OCC.

In Cleveland we have two types of shlichim – those that volunteer between high school and their mandatory army service in Israel, and those that volunteer as young adults after their army service.

The young people volunteer for a year prior to their mandatory army service are known as Shin Shinim or Shin-Shins in Hebrew. These young volunteers, who are 18 years-old, focus on engaging high schoolers in Israel.

“It’s really inspiring for us to be here in Cleveland,” added Maya Frish, a Shin-Shin. “I want to show our perspectives, our story of Israel, and help teens and the Cleveland community explore things that they may not know about Israel. It’s nice to know we can give of ourselves.”

According to Amnon Ophir, Director of @akiva, “The relationship Cleveland has with Israel is special. But the Shin Shinim make such a difference in elevating our teens’ excitement for Israel. Because of this, they’re forming an ongoing passion for Judaism and Israel for generations to come.”

In addition to the annual arrival of the Shin Shins, the Federation also regularly sponsors an Israeli Shlicha – who helps build and implement Israel-education programs mainly for young adults in our community.

Relocating to Cleveland was something Li-or Gersht, the Shlicha had thought about a lot. Although she’s only been here for a short amount of time, she already feels like she’s made a home here. “It was time for me to serve all Jewish people – not just Israelis,” she said. “Serving the Jewish people is doing something for my soul. I’m able to engage this community – of all ages – getting together and talking about Judaism.”

Our community rallies around this special bridge between Cleveland and Israel. Having the Shin Shinim and Shlicha is not possible without the support of the Jewish Cleveland community. “There are so many miles between Cleveland and Israel, but to see how many people here love Israel and support Israel, I’m amazed and I feel gratitude to the people, to this community,” said Gersht.

“When we come here and know that people want us here and donate to the Campaign for us to be here…that motivates us to be better in what we’re doing,” said Shahak Musai, a Shin-Shin. “It makes us feel better about being here.”

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“When we come here and know that people want us here and donate to the Campaign for us to be here…that motivates us to be better in what we’re doing."