Diary of a shinshin in the days of COVID-19
Guest ColumnistOpinion

Diary of a shinshin in the days of COVID-19

Itamar Medina recounts final days in Pittsburgh

Itamar Medina, a 19-year-old volunteer ambassador (shinshin) from Karmiel/Misgav, Israel — Pittsburgh’s Partnership2Gether region — returned to Pittsburgh March 3 with three other teens to finish their year’s work of connecting local Jewish youth to Israel. The shinshinim program is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

Medina had been in Israel in February and stayed there until March 3 so he could vote in the Israeli elections. Once back in Pittsburgh, he developed a medical condition (he was not tested for the coronavirus) that prevented him from returning to Israel together with the rest of the shinshinim when the coronavirus crisis began to spread in the United States. There was a lot of uncertainty about when, or if, he would be able to get on a flight back to the Jewish state. He kept a record of his feelings and fears during the month of March, until he could safely travel back to Israel.

Tuesday, March 3: We were finally back! It was so good to be back in my second home, Pittsburgh, and in a very exciting time to start the third trimester with my new classes that I get to work with, fifth and fourth grades. I was so happy to get back to work and see the kids again.

But as the days from Israel pass, I remember what my dad said, that he has a strange feeling about us going to the U.S.A. He feels that we will fly back to Israel sooner than we would have wished for.

Thursday, March 5: That day I was having really intense pains around midday that led to me having to go through medical care for that day and half of the next day (Friday). It was assumed that the problem was caused due to the air pressure in the plane that has taken us to the U.S.A.

Monday, March 9: The first week of meeting my new students (at Community Day School), I was so excited to see new faces and a new class! Since I had worked with only third- and second-graders throughout the year, it was definitely a refreshing experience to have. Meeting and learning who the students are was great, and I was so happy to finally get back to normal.

Thursday, March 12: Finally, Thursday, which is activity day, had come and I was so excited to finally get to work with the kids, but sour news came in early in that morning as Sivan (another shinshin) was being sent back to Israel as soon as possible.

It was a very strange day as Sivan left as soon as the afternoon, and I was so sad to see such a good friend walk without her chance to give a proper goodbye to where she was so happy to return, leaving Pittsburgh so early.

Friday, March 13: Fridays are great, we all get to sit down in the Federation, talk and work, but this Friday was different, as everything felt different to me without Sivan being there, without having a quarter of the team.

That day, (remaining shinshinim) Guy and Tamar, and Ravid (shinshinim coordinator) and I sat down before heading for the Federation when Ravid gave us the sad news that the Jewish Agency made the decision that the shinshinim from all over the world will be sent back to Israel no matter what. But then there was a different problem, as I was not allowed to go on a plane due to my medical condition that changed on Thursday, just a week before the announcement was made.

Later that weekend it was announced that most if not all of the workplaces that we were working in will stop all activities.

Sunday, March 15: It is a strange Sunday if you don’t have a synagogue to go to in the morning, so It was an even stranger Sunday as Guy and Tamar left that day.

It felt somewhat alone to be the last shinshin in Pittsburgh, quite alarming actually. Though I never was alone in Pittsburgh, thanks to the strong community sense that I felt as soon as I came to Pittsburgh.

Monday, March 16: I was back in Squirrel Hill that morning, but it was weird to wake up at 9:30 a.m. since usually at that time I’m at CDS. But that was not the case that morning as the school was closed and moved to online studies. The days from that Monday and forward were quite dull as there was not much to do and we rarely got out of the house.

Wednesday, March 18: That morning was the most interesting morning, as I was called for a follow-up check that day, and the only thing the doctor would tell me is what will be my fate when I return to Israel.

I will share with you that a big part of me did not want to go back to Israel, as Pittsburgh has become my home, and you never want to leave earlier than when you thought you were going to leave. And you just want to stay longer, you just can’t get enough of the year.

The doctor that day told me that the safest for me would be to stay for another couple of weeks, as it is the safest to fly a month after the initial injury.

The days that followed were filled with good family time thanks to the Rosenbergs (his hosts) and heartwarming texts from people in the community asking for my well-being once they understood that I stayed in Pittsburgh. You really can’t get enough of the Jewish community of Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, April 1: This was a very mixed day. That day is the day I flew back to Israel.

I think the best way to compile the feelings of that day is by the words of Tal Perel whom I had a conversation with many times. She has said to me that once you connect to a community that is not in your reality in Israel, you become torn between the two. You miss everyone at home in Israel and if you will move back to Israel you will miss everyone in Pittsburgh.

That is exactly how I felt that day, how I feel today, and how I will always feel. Torn between Pittsburgh and Israel.
I do not know if we will be sent back to Pittsburgh, and if so when, but all I know is that I will be back in Pittsburgh, as a piece of my heart will always remain there.

Thank you, the people of Pittsburgh for giving a home far from the known home and opening your hearts to anyone who might come.

I love you all, and I will be back. PJC

Itamar Medina lives on Kibbutz Tuval, near Karmiel, Israel.

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