MILWAUKEE – If you like the arts, these teens are for you.
The new shin shins, the local Jewish community’s 18-year-old visitors from Israel, are tied to dance, film and drama. Specifically, Yogev Toby loves theater, films and photography. His partner here for a year, May (pronounced “my”) Ben-Shabat, is a serious hip-hop dancer.
The shin shin program is an annual young emissary endeavor, organized by Milwaukee Jewish Federation and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
“The word shin shin comes from the letter shin,” said Toby, indicating that the letter helps to form a Hebrew phrase. “In Hebrew you say ‘shnat sherut,’ year of service.”
The shin shins will connect with Wisconsin through Jewish organizations, like synagogue religious schools, Hillel Milwaukee and the Steve & Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River. During the week, they’ll work at Milwaukee Jewish Day School and Gan Ami Early Childhood Education at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay.
“It’s a good program for the community and for us and for Israel,” Toby said. “The main thing we want for this year is to just be a part of this community.”
When at home, Ben-Shabat drives an hour from Tiberias to Haifa for hip-hop dance practice. She’s too advanced for facilities in Tiberias.
“I used to teach little girls. I used to do workshops in my studio,” she said, but she got too busy and dropped it. Ben-Shabat will be doing something dance related with Milwaukee Jewish Day School, and Toby will be doing something related to theater at the school.
He’s already directed a short documentary film and a play in high school. “I’m a big fan of theater, a big fan of cinema, films and photography,” he said, speaking of a possible future career. “I am aiming for that direction.”
The shin shin pair are, yes, artists, but they’ve also got a somewhat surprising secondary interest. When they return to Israel in a year, to join the Israel Defense Forces, they’ll both be interested in combat or frontline work.
Toby is interested in combat photography. Ben-Shabat is confident she’ll serve in a fighting unit, because she plans to request it and she said females are generally accepted when they ask for it.
“In my life I like to do the things I want in the most challenging way,” Ben-Shabat said. She offered examples: She came to America as part of the Interlaken Mifgash program a few years ago; she’s been part of Diller Teen Fellows, a leadership program in Israel; now she’s a shin shin.
“I’m always going to the most challenging place,” she said. “New places, people I never met.”