These Young Ambassadors Bring Modern Israel to Rashi

by | Feb 6, 2019 | Our Stories

For Jewish citizens of Israel, service in the IDF is compulsory and most high school graduates go directly into military service following high school. However, a select number of deferments are provided for recent grads who qualify and are selected to take part in a year of service – Shnat Sherut – volunteering in schools, disadvantaged communities, ecological organizations, and in our case, ambassador programs.

For three years, The Rashi School has benefitted from CJP’s Boston-Haifa Connection and the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Shnat Sherut (Shinshin) program, welcoming recent Israeli high school graduates into our classrooms: first Dor and Nisso, then Shira and Bar, now Adar and Nitzan.

Rabbi Sharon Clevenger, Rashi’s middle school rabbi, has been the liaison between the Shinshinim and the rest of the faculty at Rashi. “They make everything into a game, so the kids love it,” said Grade 2 Assistant Teacher Ayelet Laytner. “At the beginning of the year, Nitzan and Adar shared much of their personal stories so the kids have a real connection with them.”

And now that the relationship has been forged, Adar and Nitzan get to share with Rashi students what it’s like to be a kid growing up in Israel. Our Shinshinim bring to students a taste of modern Israeli society through lessons on Hebrew slang, Israeli foods, Israeli music and even “a week in the life of an Israeli student.”

“When Nitzan and Adar are teaching,” Grade 4 teacher Joey Regen explains, “It’s exciting to be in the classroom – there’s a certain level of unpredictability in a fun way that differs from the average classroom lesson. They’re very comfortable teaching through movement and games, which the kids really appreciate. Part of that is this willingness to let it get a little chaotic in the classroom. There’s this energy that they bring as visitors that teachers have but can’t bring as easily.”

With the goal of sharing with American students what Israeli life is like, Adar and Niztan prepare lessons that will be both engaging and age-appropriate for the grade they will work with.

“Recently, I had a great activity with the eighth graders about women leaders in Israel,” recalls Nitzan. In the lesson, they covered as many impactful women as possible across a multitude of fields. “We talked about the actor Gal Godot and how she is a real modern-day Wonder Woman. She is a true feminist.” The class also discussed Ada Yonath, an Israeli scientist and Nobel Prize winner; Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel; and Lucy Aharish, an Israeli Arab reporter and television news anchor. Following their discussion about many other impressive Israeli women, the class considered the strong women in their own lives. “It turned into a very interesting debate about how they define strength and what makes a woman strong. They shared some great thoughts,” Nitzan explained.

And while Rashi students benefit from the opportunity to learn about life in the State of Israel first-hand from our Shinshinim, Nitzan and Adar get to learn about the strength and vitality of Jewish life outside of their homeland. In a recent article published in Mabat Nahariya, a newspaper published in his home town of Nahariya, Adar explained the impact that being in Boston has had on him. I feel like I left the country of Israel as an Israeli and came back as a Jew.”

These profound moments – profound lessons, profound realizations, profound connections between Israeli and American young people – are the heart of the Shinshin program and reflect the centrality of Israel at Rashi. In fact, the lasting impact of Rashi’s community, as well as opportunities made possible by the Boston-Haifa Connection, is what inspired Nitzan to seek a year of service between high school and the IDF.

“As an eighth grader, I took part in the Tzmatim program – an exchange between Rashi and my school, Leo Baeck,” said Nitzan. The school’s trip to Boston was considered the highlight of their school year – much like the Israel trip for our own eighth graders. “The delegation was one of the best experiences in my life. Not only did I have a lot of fun, but I also made friends for life. It was the first time that I was exposed to a Jewish community outside of Israel.” The exchange between Rashi and Leo Baeck inspired her to seek other such programs in the future. “When I heard about the Shnat Sherut program, I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me.”

“When I learned that Nitzan would be a Shinshin,” says Rabbi Sharon Clevenger, “it was completely obvious to me that she had to come to Rashi.” Nitzan had stood out as an eighth grader as a thoughtful student with excellent English. She was even featured in that year’s Annual Dinner video which was focused on our connection with Israel. “Not only did I remember her as a great kid, but her reputation preceded her as an awesome young adult and I knew this would be an incredible chance to see a student come full-circle with Rashi.”

Nitzan Zacharia in the 2014 Annual Dinner video

Indeed, this December when the Tzmatim delegation made their week-long visit to Boston, Nitzan and Adar were right there with them, serving as role models for those who may themselves embark on a year of service in five years. Nitzan remembers being thrilled to join eighth graders from Rashi and Leo Baeck on their retreat to Camp Eisner. The group of students spends two full days together at the beginning of their visit to get to know each other and Rashi’s Shinshinim accompanied them to help facilitate the ice breaker. But Nitzan remembers, “it was so much more than that. I felt a special bond to the Tzmatim delegation since we went to the same school and they were having the same experience that I had just a few years ago.” Just as the retreat was a great opportunity for the students to get to know one another, Nitzan admitted, “it was a great opportunity to meet the Israeli kids and to bond with Rashi’s eighth graders. I hope that we might have inspired the Leo Baeck students to come back to Rashi as well someday.”

As for Adar and Nitzan’s futures, they have a lot to look forward to. Nearly all of the Shinshin graduates go on to join the IDF and are often accepted into the most elite units. This is no exception for Nitzan and Adar, both of whom have been accepted into impressive posts. Nitzan has been accepted to the air pilot course after her year here in Boston and Adar has recently learned that he will be part of the Israel Defense Force’s journalist corps. “Both of these positions are highly competitive,” explains Rabbi Sharon Clevenger. “Both could lead to lifetime careers for Nitzan and Adar, either in the IDF or in civilian life as a pilot and a journalist, respectively.”

And in the meantime, we at Rashi will continue to make the most of our time with Adar and Nitzan. “It’s such a treat when the Shinshinim are in the classroom,” says eighth-grader Sasha F. “I wish we could learn from them every day.”