Amid Coronavirus Outbreak, Shinshinim Return Home to Israel

As our community, and others around the world, continue to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, the Jewish Agency for Israel made the decision to bring home the 150 shinshinim (Israeli Emissaries) who are working in the U.S. during their gap year prior to serving in the Israeli army. Our eight shinshinim received the news on Friday, March 14 and two days later boarded the plane to return to Israel.

We checked in through WhatsApp with Eyal and Ido, who are being quarantined with Sagie and Arbel for two weeks in Tel Aviv before joining their families in time for Passover.

How did you take the news?

Ido: With just two days notice, we had to say goodbye to all of our friends and host families and pack our suitcases. We had to pause our life in Baltimore and hope that we will come back to complete our mission and see all of the community members again.

Eyal: Even though we were really sad to stop all that we’ve done so far this year, we understood and know the decision was made out of care for our health and security. The moment we found out we were returning, we were busy closing our bank accounts, packing and more. And then we got to the hard part, saying goodbye to everyone. Shir, my partner in Ohr Chadash, and I, had the privilege of saying goodbye to the whole school on Friday.

What’s it like being separated from your parents?

Ido: Pretty weird. Because of the coronavirus situation our parents couldn’t pick us up from the airport. Instead, they waited at the quarantine apartment where they had to keep six feet away from us.

Eyal: It was actually pretty funny. We didn’t think that we would get to see them at all. We thought that we would just go to the apartment and start the quarantine. But when we arrived at the apartment all of our parents were there. They really helped us with everything and thanks to them we are all settled for the next two weeks. It was hard not to go and hug them, but I understood that it’s for the good and hopefully in two weeks we’ll be back together.

How are you passing the time?

Ido: We spend most of our time watching TV, playing games and working out. We cook a lot (after all, we are four hungry teenagers) and we talk with our friends, family and other shinshinim who are also in quarantine.

Eyal: We are really trying to make a routine for ourselves so we aren’t just wasting time. Every day, one of us runs an activity for the other three. Besides that we are doing something special and fun every night for everyone…for example we recently held a Shesh Besh (backgammon) tournament. I am also trying to use the time to talk and Face Time with all my family and friends.

Hardest thing about the quarantine?

Ido: The hardest thing for me so far is knowing that there is a chance that I might not come back to Baltimore soon and that I didn’t get to say goodbye to many of the students and people who I got to know and work with this year.

Eyal: I think that the hardest thing about being in quarantine is not being able to just go outside. From the moment we entered the apartment, the thing I wanted to do the most, is go on a run, but I can’t.

Are you keeping in touch with Baltimore?

Ido: Of course! From the moment we landed in Israel we have kept in touch with our amazing host families and we truly hope that these connections will last forever.

Eyal: Of course. The first thing I did when we landed was reached out to all of the people who mean the most to me in Baltimore through WhatsApp. We are always talking on the phone and staying in touch. I’ve even spoken to the school and I just completed a Zoom conversation with all the middle school students.

What have you discovered about yourself?

Ido: I realized how deeply connected I am to the community and how grateful I am for the opportunity to be a part of it and to bring Israel to everyone in Baltimore through my personal story.

Eyal: First of all, I learned how much this year has been meaningful for me and it’s something that I will never experience again. Secondly, in the last week, I feel how fortunate I was to go with the seven other shinshinim. I’m with the boys in the apartment and we’re having a great time, but I realized after only a day here, I missed the girls. I had to call them and talk. This year has truly been a blessing and I just hope that it isn’t the end.

*Banner Image: Baltimore shinshinim with goodbye presents gifted to them by CJE – “isolation kits” – these kits contain things to keep them healthy (soap, mask), relaxed (face mask, cozy socks), occupied (sudoku, 3D puzzle), happy (jelly beans), not hungry (cookies, old bay spice) and supported (Smadar’s personal WhatsApp number).

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