Checking in on Our Shinshinim


With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, our eight Baltimore shinshinim (Israeli emissaries) returned home to Israel where they will now stay for the rest of the school year. They will continue their shnat sherut (a year of service) remotely until the beginning of June.

Like us, Israel is on stay-at-home orders and is practicing social distancing. Schools are closed. Workers are staying home. Cafes, bars and restaurants are shuttered and celebrations and festivals have been cancelled. Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) will look different this year, around the world and especially in Israel.

We talked with Shir Keidar, shinshinit at Ohr Chadash Academy, and Roni Shitrit, shinshinit at Krieger Schechter Day School, both from Ashkelon, about life in Israel amid the coronavirus.

What are the current restrictions placed on everyone in Israel?

Roni: The state is still in a lock down except for all the essential places. Regarding Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut– the bereaved families are not allowed to visit their lost ones during this day, which will make this coming day of memorial more difficult than ever. There won’t be fireworks this year at Israel’s Independence Day for fear that it might cause forbidden social gatherings. 

How is life under stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus outbreak?

Shir: I came back to a reality I wasn’t familiar with – we can only go within 100 meters from our house and need to wear a mask if we leave the house.

It’s a weird feeling coming back to Israel and not being able to see your friends or people beside your close family and not being able to do anything outside other than walking.

How will you be celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut?

Roni: My family and I will decorate the house, have the traditional al ha’esh (BBQ), watch the special programs on TV and just enjoy our own company. As unfortunate as it is that we are restricted only to our homes and families, we must remember that celebration is all about the enjoyment itself and what you feel inside.

Shir: Usually, Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations are a big thing in Israel but this year each family will celebrate by themselves. I’m used to going out and having a big celebration with my friends, but this year, my family is getting together, and we are doing a BBQ.

What are your plans for the coming months?

Roni: I guess my immediate future is pretty much planned for now – I will continue the shnat sherut from home for the few more weeks that are left. When some of the restrictions have been lifted, I’ll volunteer, work at a job and enjoy my time until I join the army next fall, where I’ll serve in the intelligence force for four years. After that… that’s way too much for me to plan 🙂 .

Shir: Keep on doing the shinshinim program till the end of the school year and next year, I plan to do national service in Jerusalem in a school for teens at risk. My job there will be to act as a role model and help them with everything they need from homework to escorting them to court. 

If you were to write a letter to yourself about the current situation and read it years from now, what would it say?

Roni: If everything in life would actually always go as planned, we wouldn’t be as wise, as experienced or as foresighted as we are today. Plans are made to be changed … or even ruined.

Shir: I will write that even in hard times you should keep doing what you are passionate about and always be grateful for every moment in your life.

Silver lining in all of this?

Roni: This is a challenging time for us all. We’ve been forced into a situation where our current days must be kept as simple as they can be (physically). Now that more is restricted than allowed to do, my silver lining is found when I take things in perspective. Everything has an end. This too, will end someday, and we will come out stronger and more united and appreciative. Besides, I am lucky enough to be healthy and well. That’s more than enough for a silver lining.

Shir: When we heard that we needed to leave Baltimore I was really sad. I couldn’t believe that the year just stopped and I needed to say goodbye to all of the people I made connections with in such a short notice. My silver lining is that I’m lucky to know all those amazing people that became my family during my time in Baltimore and that I’m safe in my country with my family whom I love and I continue to stay in touch with the people from Baltimore.

The Baltimore shinshinim hub is a program of the Macks Center for Jewish Education.

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