Happy to meet you, yet sorely missing the food

 

“Yummy,” she said softly, but in Hebrew, actually. So what she really said was “ta-im.”

Amit Glass grew up in Israel with her grandmother’s Iraqi soup, called kubba. Just thinking about it had her muttering that enthused “ta-im” during an interview.

Glass and Omri Bitan interviewed soon after arriving in the United States in late August. Both are 18 and just-graduated from Israeli high schools. They’ve come to Wisconsin for a year to serve as “shin shins,” to better connect the local Jewish community with Israel.

New shin shin visitors come to Milwaukee annually before their compulsory Israeli military service. The shin shin program, facilitated by the Israel Center of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, will have Glass and Bitan volunteering at local schools, synagogues and other locations.

Israel is a diverse country, with Jews and culture from absolutely everywhere making recipes from all over the world. This year’s young emissaries enjoy Israel’s gastronomic diversity, as well as their own families’ ethnic dishes.

In fact, when they filled out biography forms for the shin shin program, both cited food as one of the top three things they love about Israel. (Other items that made the list were scenery, culture and the free society and its diversity of opinion.)

“There are a variety of different foods,” Glass said. “I really love sushi.”

Bitan’s family, which immigrated to Israel around the 1950s, makes traditional Moroccan food. “I love my grandmas’ food, both my grandmas,” Bitan said.

“The burgers in Israel I think are good,” he added, though he’d like to try some Milwaukee burgers to see how they stack up.

Food aside, the pair are here to connect. “We are here to bring Israel to you, to everyone, to the Jewish community in Milwaukee,” Bitan said in a video posted to the Chronicle Facebook page. “And just to get to know you better,” added Glass.

Glass, who is from the Golan Heights, majored in biology and theater in high school.

She originally thought she wanted to serve in intelligence during her military service next year, but she’s now thinking she’d rather be a trainer. She doesn’t want to “just look at the screen” and she’s afraid if she’s accepted into intelligence she could wind up doing exactly that.

Glass is close with her twin sister, but she thinks some time apart may be for the best.

“I’m sure it will be very challenging, but I think we both need it,” she said. “To search a little bit for who we are without each other.”

Bitan, of a small village in southern Israel, very much wants to be a combat pilot in the Israeli air force. But he’ll do his best wherever he ends up, which will hopefully at least be a combat unit, he said.

He participated in a cultural exchange program that paired 10 Israelis with 10 non-Jewish Germans. The Germans visited Israel and the group all toured a concentration camp together in Germany.

He said it was a humbling experience and, with the young Germans, it felt like “we’re looking towards the future together.”

Bitan will be spending his seventh summer at the Steve & Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River in 2018. Seven years ago, he was reluctant to come to Wisconsin for summer camp, but his dad was enthusiastic, seeing it as a chance for him to learn English and gain new experiences. Bitan loved it and kept coming back.

“It’s such a magical place and the people are so nice,” he said. “My friends from Interlaken are as close as my friends from home.”

It’s part of why he applied to be a shin shin here.

“The community did such an amazing thing for me and I want to give back from myself.”