Hello y’all! It’s Gal and Itay, the Milwaukee shin shinim. We can’t believe a year has flown by so quickly. It was a real rollercoaster, but it was absolutely the time of our lives. Where can we even start? No words can describe everything that we’ve learned, experienced and done this year.
Let’s start from the beginning…
Gal: Let’s go back in time to 2017. A group of American students from a school called Milwaukee Jewish Day School came all the way to my high school — Kadoorie, located in Milwaukee’s Partnership Region, Sovev Kinneret. I remember how excited I was when I got the message that my family would be hosting a couple of students and that I would be able to meet with them. Never in a million years would I have believed you if you told me that five years later I would be writing these words to you all the way in Milwaukee. I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity during the visit from MJDS to hear about the shin shin program. That was it. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. That one dream always stuck with me — to become a shin shin in Milwaukee.
Three years later (while constantly getting nervous waiting for the call from JAFI, the Jewish Agency for Israel) I received the best news — I was selected to be one of Milwaukee’s next shin shinim! I remember it like it was yesterday — I couldn’t believe it. Me? A shin shin in Milwaukee? It always seemed like such a far-off dream. That day was the best day ever. Looking forward to the start of the year was all I ever thought and talked about.
Itay: Back in 2018, I went for a month-long delegation at Charlotte, North Carolina, with my school. It was my first time visiting a Jewish community center and learning about a Jewish community outside of Israel. I knew that I had to explore and experience more! During junior year at high school, I applied to be a shin shin under the Jewish Agency for Israel. I didn’t know where or even if I would be selected. After a very long six-month process, I received the phone call about an interview with the Milwaukee community. Milwaukee? I had no idea it was a real place. Long story short — I got in! I was thrilled.
For both of us, coming to Milwaukee for the year of service was a little bit scary. The long list of wonderful past shin shinim was also intimidating — we knew that we had some really big shoes to fill, but we were ready for the challenge and for an adventure. Our service here would include representing Israel in the Jewish community, teaching and sharing about our lives, Judaism and Israel, creating bonds, learning about the culture and the people, living with new families, and so much more!
On Aug. 19, 2021, we arrived! We were so excited to start our new journey. We were greeted at the airport by strangers holding signs. Little did we know that these strangers would become the closest people to us, the most loving, caring and warm people. We hopped in their cars and for the first time drove to our new homes.
The host family experience was one the best things we could wish for this year. We did so many things together, and learned so much about Jewish life outside of Israel. We did everything with them from everyday dinners, to travelling around the country. We can’t even explain how grateful we are for them. These are the bonds that will last forever. They have a home in Israel, and we have a home in Milwaukee.
Thank you to the Steele, Mirviss-Jossart, Nelles, Graupe and Stein families. We couldn’t have done this without you. We love you.
We cannot express how much we are taking with us from this year. What we have received is just as impactful as what we have given. This year taught us lifelong lessons, especially how to deal with the long, cold winter (just kidding), but the most important lesson of them all is that home isn’t one place. It is where you feel safe and loved, and that family isn’t only by blood, but the people who care about you the most — your story and meaning grow from within you and who you want to become.
Our year was packed with amazing things. It feels like a lifetime, definitely more than a year.
We started straight with the Jewish holidays at MJDS, Gan Ami and many of the synagogues in the area, even Waukesha.
Later, we joined the Hebrew classes at Nicolet’s High School, which was absolutely amazing!
Meeting all the students and teachers was such a blast, but more than anything, our goal was to be the face of Israel in the community. We made connections in big ways and small ways — in the classrooms and in the small talks we had with people at Starbucks, the street, MJDS hallways, attending BBYO events, and more.
All of this wouldn’t have happened if not for all of the people who were part of our journey. We appreciate you. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to have the year of our lives. Thank you for letting us thrive. We will forever cherish the best times at Gan Ami Early Childhood Education, the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center; MJDS; Nicolet High School; Hillel Milwaukee; congregations Shalom, Sinai, Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun, Emanu-El of Waukesha, Beth Israel Ner Tamid; and more. You have our hearts. Thank you for all the unique people and experiences that we’ve been able to meet and have throughout this year.
We so appreciate the kids and people of all ages, our host families, and so many others with whom we were so lucky to meet who became our community, our safe place, our home. We would like to say a special thank you to Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Susie Rosengarten, Uria Roth and Tzipi Altman-Shafer. And thank you to Rabbi Shari Shamah, Heather Spencer, Jori Broidy, MJDS staff, Gan Ami staff, all of our supervisors and staff at the synagogues, Toni Davidson Levenberg and Camp Interlaken staff, Or Eliaz and Hillel Staff for being there for us always. It has been a pleasure for us to work with you. You shaped our experience into the best one possible.
We are finishing the year at the best place on earth, Camp Interlaken! It has been incredible to end our year in this amazing place. Here we have been able to reconnect with some people we already knew, as well as meet new and wonderful people. We created more friendships and have been able to do things which we never tried before — water skiing, working with the campers, experiencing wonderful Shabbats, and exploring the beauty of the north woods of Wisconsin. We can’t believe camp is almost over! We love it so, so much and we don’t want to leave.
Now, as we near the finish line for our year as shin shinim, we’re filled with pride, joy and jealousy for the next shin shinim that will come to this amazing community. We wish that we could start all over and do it again. Exactly the same as it was. We want to thank you all for making this year as meaningful as it was. Thank you for welcoming us to your community, for being open to learn with us, to share with us, and thank you for all the moments when we realized we’re so happy here — in Milwaukee, our second home. It won’t be too long, we’ll be back.
With so much love and gratitude,
Gal Garti & Itay Rokban
Milwaukee Shin Shins 2021-2022
What’s a shin shin?
A shin shin is a young emissary, who comes to Milwaukee from Israel for a year to spend a year abroad, often just before service in the army. The shin shin program is funded and organized locally by Milwaukee Jewish Federation in cooperation with the Jewish Agency for Israel.