Coming to Milwaukee: The best decision I’ve ever made

What is home? Is it where you sleep? Is it where your family is? Or is it, like the song, where your heart is?

I never in my life thought I’d have to answer this question at the age of 19, but I have, and I am so satisfied with the answer.

During this year I’ve gained several homes; I lived with two phenomenal host families that gave me two completely different experiences of living a Jewish life in Milwaukee. All the laughs, conversations and hugs made my year special in a way I can’t even attempt to explain.

The Milwaukee Jewish community is my second home. Being able to give back to the community that has given me so much throughout the year is all I could ask for.

Over the summer of 2019, shin shimim May Ben Shabat and Yogev Toby spent some time at the Steve & Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River.

Thinking all the way back to when I first signed up for the shin shin program, I did not know what to expect from this year and it raised many concerns – living in a different house, a different culture, and working like I have never worked before doesn’t sound easy, but something was pulling me towards it.

I knew that if I was meant for this year I would be accepted into the program and make it the best experience of my life.

Coming to Milwaukee was the best decision I have made in my whole life.

If we had the chance to speak to each other during my year I probably told you about the million places I visited that day or about the program I did at Milwaukee Jewish Day School or the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, or maybe we just had a deep conversation about random stuff in Israel. My job here was to be a shin shin, an Israeli emissary. My main goal was to bring myself and my country to everything I do. After each conversation I had with you I left with the biggest smile because as much as I wanted to bring to the community, the community gave back to me. Everyone I talked to was genuinely interested in what I said; I felt so proud to become a part of a community that is so inviting, warm and welcoming.

I was lucky enough to be partnered with May, who is a true wonder woman and without her the year would not have been the same. May and I created a work ethic that made our best traits shine and improved everything that needed improvement.

My year in Milwaukee has taught me so much, especially how much work is needed in order to maintain a Jewish life and a Jewish community in the Diaspora. In Israel I wake up Jewish and brush my teeth Jewish; when you’re in a place where the majority is not Jewish – you must choose to live a Jewish life. I was and am still deeply moved by how much our community here in Milwaukee cares about maintaining its Jewish life and its connection with Israel.

What’s a shin shin?
An annual young emissary program brings two 18-year-olds from Israel to Milwaukee to spend a pre-army year doing volunteer service abroad. Each of the 18-year-olds is called a shin shin. The program is funded and organized locally by Milwaukee Jewish Federation in cooperation with the Jewish Agency for Israel.

I am ending this year with mixed feelings of happiness and sadness. I am sad that I have to say good-bye already; it seems like I had just met my host families at the airport yesterday, but that was 12 months ago. Yet I am happy that my story with Milwaukee and its amazing community is not over, I don’t think it will ever be over because, like I said, I found a home here, and a home like this stays forever.

I will miss you all so much.

Toda, thank you.

And le’hitraot, until we meet again

With everlasting love,

Yogev Toby

Shin shin, 2018-2019