Goodbye: I’ve felt lucky and at home

 

Hello dear Chronicle readers! It’s your shin shin, Omri Bitan.

When I was asked to write a recap of my year as a shin shin in Milwaukee, my first thought was: HOW am I supposed to do that? Now, as I’m trying to face the fact that in less than three weeks I’ll be going back to Israel, I will attempt to tell you a little bit about my experience as a shin shin.

My introduction to Milwaukee started seven summers ago. Back in Israel, when I was 11 years old, my parents decided that they wanted to send me and my brother to a Jewish summer camp in Wisconsin (Steve & Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC). As soon as my first summer at camp was over, I knew I had fallen in love – with camp, and with the people I met there.

Since that summer, Interlaken has been my second home and my camp friends have been part of my family. As an Israeli camper at Interlaken, I always got to interact with the shinshinim, I saw the strong relationships they built with campers and staff, and the ways that they were able to make a difference in our community. My camp friends always told me that I should be a shin shin, and I knew a little bit about Milwaukee from staying there for a few days after camp every year. I thought that it would be a good fit, and so I decided to apply.

After I was accepted into the program, I still had some concerns about being a shin shin. Even though already I knew how to get to the JCC, Bayshore and the Marcus theater, I was worried that I didn’t have the right skills. How would it be to work with my partner Amit? Would the community like me? Would I get along with my host families? And how was I supposed to be away from home for a year? The only thing I forgot to worry about was the crazy Wisconsin winter… I had only visited during the summers and I didn’t realize that Milwaukee is sooooo COLD!!

Except for the weather, all of my concerns disappeared as soon as I arrived in Milwaukee and began to engage with the Jewish community. I feel so lucky that I got to know and work with such warm, kind people. I really felt at home from the beginning, and I will never forget how welcoming everyone was. Being a shin shin has taught me a lot about American culture, about being Jewish in the U.S. and around the world, and about how hard it is to be Jewish outside of Israel.

Throughout the year, I had the opportunity to work at Milwaukee Jewish Day School, the JCC, four different synagogues, Milwaukee Hillel, Nicolet High School and more. My job allowed me to see and experience the effort that Jewish parents in Milwaukee put into keeping the community connected. Seeing their work has been very inspiring for me and allowed me to develop a very deep sense of appreciation for the Jewish community in Milwaukee.

This year also helped me think differently – to develop a new perspective of world and of my life. This year helped me to trust myself and to become more confident. I am fortunate to have further expanded my family and to have another place to call home. After this year, I have fallen in love with the Jewish community in Milwaukee. I will finish by saying a huge thank you to everyone who made me feel at home and helped me create so many amazing memories.

I will miss you and I hope to see you soon!

With much appreciation and love,

Omri Bitan