Following an unexpected overnight stay in Manhattan when their connecting flight from Ben Gurion International Airport was canceled, Hadar Maravent and Raz Levin arrived in Pittsburgh last week to begin a year of service in the Steel City.
With various communal partnerships already established, the objective, explained Maravent and Levin, will be to create significant connections between local residents, Israel and Israeli culture. The 18-year-olds are the city’s latest installment of shinshinim, young Israeli emissaries sent to diaspora communities by the Jewish Agency for Israel.
(Shinshin is an amalgamation of shnat sherut, the Hebrew phrase for “year of service.”)
“We’re here to really bring our Israeli story to the community, mostly through education and youth,” said Maravent.
“We both love Israel, and Israel is a major part of our lives, and I think that both of us can bring Israel here in a really meaningful way,” echoed Levin.
The two teens, who have deferred their commitment to the Israel Defense Forces for a year to be in Pittsburgh, are participating in a joint program between the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Jewish Agency. The program enables recent high school graduates to travel worldwide and disseminate information regarding the Jewish state and Israeli culture through volunteering in Jewish schools, synagogues, summer camps and community organizations, said Adam Hertzman, Federation’s director of marketing.
Being in Pittsburgh is a welcome opportunity, said the teenagers, who apart from engaging in a year-long preparatory seminar prior to leaving Israel, acquainted themselves with American culture by binge watching “Breaking Bad” and “This Is Us.” Such cultural consumption was aided last week by a several hour stopover in New York City, where Maravent and Levin visited Times Square and Central Park before boarding a rescheduled flight to Pittsburgh.
Since arriving in the city of black and gold, the Israelis oriented to their new surroundings by engaging in meet and greets, unpacking and walking the streets of Squirrel Hill.
“It looks like a movie,” remarked Levin.
Given their congeniality and prior endeavors, the easygoing duo will thrive in their communal roles, said Shani Turel, the program’s coordinator at Federation.
We’re here to really bring our Israeli story to the community, mostly through education and youth.
Maravent, who grew up in Karmiel — part of Pittsburgh’s Partnership2Gether region of Karmiel-Misgav — studied social science and biology in high school, was involved in a traveling dance troupe and is a past participant in the Diller Teen Fellows program, which brought her to Pittsburgh in 2016.
Levin, who grew up in Rosh Ha’ayin, a city 17 miles east of Tel Aviv, studied physics and computer science in high school, traveled to Lithuania as a young ambassador for the State of Israel, appeared on the Israeli television show “Israel’s Got Talent” and is a “tricker” (someone who participates in the sport of tricking, which partners flips, kicks, twists and other elements of gymnastics and dance).
“They’re very passionate about what they’re doing and Pittsburgh needs more Israel in it,” said Turel, who noted that Maravent and Levin were selected from hundreds of applicants for the one-year positions.
“I traveled to Israel in January of this year to interview candidates for our shinshinim program. Both Hadar and Raz stood out from all the others. I was highly impressed with their intelligence, maturity, leadership skills and motivation. I can’t wait to see the amazing impact they will undoubtedly have on our community,” said Kimberly Salzman, Federation’s director of Israel and overseas operations.
We both love Israel, and Israel is a major part of our lives, and I think that both of us can bring Israel here in a really meaningful way.
Although Maravent and Levin will benefit the greater community by planning and aiding activities such as the communitywide Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration, their primary focus will be building relationships at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh (through J Line, Diller Teen Fellows and The Second Floor programming), Community Day School and Joint Jewish Education Program (J-JEP), said Hertzman.
Additionally, at the year’s conclusion, the Israeli emissaries will spend the summer at Emma Kaufmann Camp in West Virginia, said Turel.
“We are thrilled to welcome Raz and Hadar to CDS for their year of service, with the goals of bringing our students closer to Israel and Israeli culture and nurturing in them a deeper understanding of its complexities and personal connection to their Jewish homeland,” said CDS Head of School Avi Baran Munro. “Already our faculty are impressed by the enthusiasm, maturity and experience of the shinshinim, and I think their impact on our children will be profound. I also hope they will take back to Israel some of Pittsburgh and the perspectives of our diaspora community.”
Rabbi Ron Symons, the JCC’s senior director of Jewish life, was equally enthused.
“We believe that one of the best ways we connect Pittsburgh teens with Israeli culture, Israeli history and a sense of belonging to the people of Israel at large is by helping them foster relationships with Israelis,” said Symons. “The shinshinim are scheduled to help make all of this happen. Our teens will be all the richer in their Israel experience because of their presence here.” PJC