When we last met Ella Ben Shahar and Rotem Madar, the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County’s Shinshinim (Israeli emissaries), the two 18-year-olds had deferred their service in the IDF for a year to come to the U.S. as volunteers of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI).

That was four months ago.

During that time, they have bonded with their host families and have created exciting learning opportunities as a “living bridge” to Israeli culture for their new friends in South Palm Beach County. They are making a weekly impact at Katz Yeshiva High School, Donna Klein Jewish Academy, B’nai Torah Congregation, Chabad, Congregation B’nai Israel, Congregation Shaarei Kodesh, Temple Beth El, the Levis JCC, and participating at other organizations around the community.

Warmly embracing a new community and culture

Becoming a Shinshin has been a dream of Rotem’s since she was seven years old, to follow in the footsteps of her aunt, who served in a similar capacity, also in Florida.

“I have always volunteered, because it is something that I love to do,” she said. “I was part of the Israeli Scouts, bringing myself to different communities, and being a Shinshin is another way to serve the community. I am doing good and feel good about it.”

For Ella, the opportunity to serve as a Shinshin was fueled by her passion for meeting new people, exploring new places, and sharing Israel and its culture.

“Israel is a beautiful country with a beautiful culture. While helping the community in South Palm Beach County learn about my home, I am learning about Florida and the U.S.,” she said. “Just as I share Israel here, I will share Florida in Israel.”

Exploration and experiences

Among those who have already benefited from their presence in the community:

  • Students at the Donna Klein Jewish Academy, who Rotem educated on the Israeli elections, and those at Katz Yeshiva High School, where Ella led discussions about the IDF.
  • Religious school classes that learned how the High Holidays are celebrated in Israel.
  • Children at the Levis JCC’s Zale Early Childhood Learning Center Shabbat gatherings, who have learned new songs from Rotem.
  • Rosh Hashanah – Florida-style – brought a new holiday experience that combined work with pleasure for Ella, who participated in B’nai Torah Congregation’s “Reverse Tashlich” project, using waterfront clean-ups to metaphorically cleanse the soul.

While the Shinshinim are making an impact on the community, the community is making an impact on them.

“I took a lot of things away from ‘Reverse Tashlich,’ including the beauty of the sunrise and the importance of marine preservation,” said Ella.

“I want everyone to know that I love the community of South Palm Beach County!” Rotem shared.  “I could not think of a better place to be, and there are no words to describe the affection and gratitude I have for my host family. Everyone has been so warm and welcoming; I truly have found my second home.”