This year’s young Israeli emissaries have arrived and if you see them at local events, remember that they’re here for you!
Two new shin shinim, Khen Alkaslasi and Omer Maatuf, arrived in Milwaukee in late September, 2019. They’re here for a year to connect with Milwaukee.
“We really want to get to know everybody,” Alkaslasi said. “Come over. Say hi. We’re nice.”
What’s a shin shin?
A shin shin is a young emissary, who comes to Milwaukee from Israel for a year to spend a pre-army year abroad. The shin shin program is funded and organized locally by Milwaukee Jewish Federation in cooperation with the Jewish Agency for Israel.
“We like to talk to people. Come and talk with us,” agreed Maatuf. Where to get started? Here are six things you can ask a shin shin about:
1. Wants to learn about us
Khen (the “Kh” is pronounced like the “ch” in challah) Alkaslasi wants to get to know our culture.
“Basically, I lived my whole life in the same area,” she said, with the same traditions, the same friends.
When she was in Pittsburgh for two weeks as part of a delegation, “it intrigued me to see that there is another way of life. I wanted to explore more.”
Alkaslasi feels some things in Israel could use improvement. “I would like to know how you live so I know what to bring back to Israel.”
Maatuf majored in Arabic, biology and music in high school.
“I chose Arabic because I think the knowledge of this language is of great importance in Israel,” he said. “Twenty percent of the Israeli population and all of our neighboring countries are native Arabic speakers, so if we really want to communicate and understand them we might as well learn their language.”
3. The Diller program
Alkaslasi was part of the Diller Teen Fellows program and became a junior counselor.
The Diller Teen Fellows program invites Jewish teens from around the world to come together and learn about leadership. The training features a commitment to hands-on tikkun olam, building a connection to the Jewish people and Israel, and deepening Jewish identity.
Maatuf plays several instruments, including the saxophone that he plays in a band. The name of the band, “HaRaftanim” in Hebrew, translates loosely into “Dairy Farm Workers.”
Maatuf has written most of the songs for the band. He’s taken saxophone lessons, but is self-taught on piano, guitar and drums.
Music is his greatest passion.
“When I play I find myself in this place. I’m just separate from everything,” he said.
5. Stronger periphery
Alkaslasi believes Israel needs to work to “strengthen the periphery,” to bring more resources to communities outside the big cities. She’d like to see more places to work, with better medicine, transportation and education.
6. Happy birthday
Shin shinim are typically 18 when they arrive each year, taking a year off to visit before their required service in the Israel Defense Forces.
Maatuf arrived at age 17 and just turned 18 on Sept. 28, 2019!
In Israel, drinking alcohol is permitted at age 18, so we hope Maatuf celebrated in America with a delicious root beer!
Happy birthday, Omer Maatuf!