The two shin shins who arrived to start their year of Milwaukee service in August came for similar reasons – they’re thinking about Israel’s relationship with the world and the Jewish people.
Gal Garti and Itay Rokban, both 18, also say people back in Israel are excited that they’ve come to the city of the Milwaukee Bucks. Apparently, clinching the 2021 NBA championship with the skilled and big-hearted Giannis Antetokounmpo at the helm has inspired people everywhere.
A shin shin is a young emissary who comes to Milwaukee (or some other community) 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, and it has been connecting Wisconsin with Israel for decades.
They shin shins spend their time in area public and religious schools, interacting with American teens, spending time with Hillel Milwaukee, at synagogues and at the Steve & Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC, among other activities. Shin shins must go through an application and selection process before they can earn a spot in our snowy city. Years of shin shins have existed within their cultural moment, and this year’s team is thinking about Israel’s standing in the world and antisemitism.
“There’s a lot of fake news around and a lot of information that’s not necessarily right,” said Garti. “If people meet me here, maybe they will see it differently: ‘I knew a girl. She was really nice. I don’t think she could do such things.’’
Negativity towards Israel has the attention of these young Israelis.
“I want to feel safe all over the world,” Rokban said. “I don’t want to be scared speaking Hebrew.”
Rokban is from a suburban area of Hadera, Israel, along the Mediterranean Sea. His family has two dogs, a horse and many chickens. For a possible career, he’s interested in environmental architecture, as in architecture that’s designed to benefit or accommodate the environment.
“How can you build a building that will be good for the environment but will be good for the citizens’ needs?” he asked rhetorically. “This is the thing I am very interested in, and I have been studying it.”
He noted the wildfires, floods and other issues of recent years. “It’s happening faster and faster,” he said.
Rokban likes to go the gym, play tennis, talk politics with friends and get engrossed with the latest Apple product release. “I love gadgets,” he said.
Garti started on a path toward becoming a shin shin when she watched Milwaukee Jewish Day School 8th grade kids visit her high school. She was struck by their excitement over seeing people who had visited Milwaukee.
“I was like, who are those people? Why do you know them?” she recalled.
Garti loves art and being creative, and she wishes she had more time for art in high school. She likes to visit museums.
She said she’s like to think a shin shin can leave “a special touch here in the community.”
Jews in Israel and America are the same, she said. She saw this when she observed visiting teens in Israel.
“It’s just obvious that we should have a connection,” she said. “I saw how we can make a connection with teens your age only by being a Jew.”
Rokban added: “All the Jewish people, if they want, if they feel like, they should know that they have a safe loving home in Israel.”
“Israel is not always right. It’s a war, there are two sides. Not everything is black and white,” Rokban said. “The most important thing for Israel specifically is to get positive thoughts for Israel around the world. We are not fighting Hamas, we are not fighting Iran, we are fighting the media.”