Shinshinim end year of service by recognizing growth and opportunity
PeoplehoodLooking back and ahead

Shinshinim end year of service by recognizing growth and opportunity

'We came to the U.S. at a very specific moment in our lives, and then a lot of perspectives changed for us'

Pittsburgh's Shinshinim celebrate Yom Ha'Atzmaut. (Photo by Joshua Franzos)
Pittsburgh's Shinshinim celebrate Yom Ha'Atzmaut. (Photo by Joshua Franzos)

On the heels of an unexpectedly demanding year in Pittsburgh, four young Israeli emissaries are returning home — satisfied by the work they’ve done and ready for the future.

Nearly 10 months ago, the high school graduates arrived in the Diaspora. The goal, the Shinshinim told the Chronicle at the time, was to bolster Jewish peoplehood.

A noticeable fissure had grown between young Americans and Israelis. Exacerbated by the Israeli government’s efforts to rebalance judicial powers in the Jewish state, the relationship revealed increasing cracks. The hope, according to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Shinshinim program coordinator Moran Tuti, was to help repair it.

“These Israeli kids are the same age as kids here,” Tuti said in August. “They will be able to talk, whether it’s about the simplest things or the harder parts.”

Three of the Israeli teens entered the program with some exposure to the States. Earlier participation in the Diller Teen Fellows Program and Emma Kaufmann Camp offered insights into American behavior, but nothing that could satisfactorily prepare the Israelis for a year abroad.

In August, the teens told the Chronicle they were hoping to learn more about Pittsburgh and its way of life.

“It feels like a family,” Noam said. “Everyone knows everybody and there are really good connections between people…I want to know why it’s happening here, and what makes this specific community so special.”

As part of their service — Shinshin is a Hebrew acronym for Shenat Sherut (year of service) — the teens worked at Community Day School and frequented local synagogues. Repeated interactions with residents afforded quick instruction, but the weightiest lessons were delivered less than two months after the teens touched down in Pittsburgh.

Following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, the Federation hosted a vigil in Schenley Park.

Elected officials and public figures reiterated support.

The Flagstaff Hill gathering, Pennsylvania’s Lt. Gov. Austin Davis said, was an opportunity “for folks from every faith community to come together and express our sorrow for the victims in Israel, as well as our support for our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

Support is meaningful, the Shinshinim said, but combat occurring 6,000 miles from Oakland has a palpable effect here.

“All four of us have siblings in the army. Let that sink,” one said.

Pittsburgh’s Shinshinim speak during the Oct. 19 program at Flagstaff Hill. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

Eight months after draping themselves in Israeli flags, ascending the Schenley Park stage, embracing in a mutual hug and articulating unwavering support for the Jewish state, the teens point to that night as having changed their entire year.

“Coming here we were mostly directed to work with kids — like the oldest people we were talking to were students at Hillel JUC — and suddenly, we got this whole new world of impact,” Maya, 19, said. “We got a chance to tell people, from our perspective, what’s happening.”

The teens seized the opportunity and readjusted their purpose in Pittsburgh.

“We talked to other people and explained things to them so that they could explain things to other people,” Maya said.

“That’s what we were trying to bring here: that this is the life and the reality that we are living, that our friends are living, that our families are living. And it’s not just a story that you hear about. It’s something that is happening,” Noam, 19, said.

The Shinshinim still considered themselves emissaries of the Jewish state, but the task became increasingly personal.

“We really felt like we’re doing something new, something very meaningful.

And it just became bigger than expected,” Lidor, 19, said. “And so did our actions. We realized that we have an opportunity here, that something needs to be done.”

In classrooms, on the street, while working out, the teens donned yellow ribbons or silver dog tags symbolizing the plight of hostages still under Hamas control.

“We try to bring that with us everywhere we go, and have conversations about it, and literally mention that they are still there,” Noam said. “We are an am (people), and not everyone is free.”

“In the beginning, all we wanted to do was talk about it with people — it felt like a mission, like we were kind of starving for that,” Roni, 19, said.

Moran Tuti, center, joins the Shinshinim. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

As the months transpired and interaction after interaction occurred, the teens saw noticeable changes.

“To be hearing people say, ‘Thank you,’ after I had a conversation with them, was really meaningful. It helped me understand the craziness of this,” Roni said.

“We came to the U.S. at a very specific moment in our lives, and then a lot of perspectives changed for us,” Lidor said. “We just graduated high school, and we started our adult lives here.”

Having Oct. 7 and the ensuing war catapult a group from adolescence into adulthood was unimaginable, but the original reasons for undertaking a year of service delivered constant comfort, he continued. “We’re speaking about community all the time, but community is people.”

The Shinshinim, who asked that their last names be withheld, will join the Israel Defense Forces upon returning to Israel.

“They understand life much better now after a full year being away from home. I can see that they’re ready,” Tuti said of the young adults. “They have so much to give.”

A year like the past bestows countless lessons but certain teachings are paramount, according to Noam.

“We stood up for what we believe, and we stood up for our values,” she said. “I think this is the thing that I want for every kid, and every teenager, and every young adult, and every other human being that I’ve talked to. I want them to step forward for their values. Just spread love and good and happiness, and stick together with people.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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