On the plane from Israel to Milwaukee, I thought about this crazy opportunity that fell into my lap. I panicked when I thought about the consequences of going on this journey, and I did something that I think a lot of us do before going to a new place –I began doubting myself. What if they don’t like me? What if the story I bring with me is not enough? What if my image of Israel is not the image they want to learn about? And what if I am not made from the same material of which all of the other wonderful Milwaukee shin shinim were made?
After all, I still had a lot of work to do on myself, and I needed to arrive ready for this year. I began to analyze and rank in a list the components of my personality. I thought about what version of me I most wanted to show the community. In the process, I was struck by the realization that none of you know me. You have no idea what to expect! I can be whatever I want, and no one can judge me based on who I was before. This realization made me stop what I was doing, and instead of continuing to put myself back together, I decided to reinvent myself.
I was still stressed and anxious, but I knew I was going to be okay, and that I would come back different at the end of this year.
The plane landed and the first thing I noticed was my two host families – the Levenbergs and the Shamahs; Orri’s host family, the Herbsts; Uria, the shalich; and Susie Rosengarten, our supervisor. Everyone smiled, and I could feel the warmth immediately.
Have you ever stopped and realized that you are right where you’re supposed to be? That was the feeling. I looked and knew this was my place and my time.
In Arabic, they call it “maktoob”, which literally means, “it was written.” In their belief, every person has their own path, written by G-d. Everything you see and do, every person you meet along the way, is a part of your own unique path. Something about this moment made me believe I was going the right way; a gut feeling that I had made the right decision. Maktoob.
I worked in so many different amazing places, got to know the most beautiful people, in the prettiest place. Every view I saw and the people that came across my path were there to teach me something, and I was starving to learn more.
It was a long journey in which I learned so much about myself, spending time with the kids in MJDS, Gan Ami, the different synagogues and at so many organizations around Milwaukee.
Recently Orri and I finished our work at the community and went up to the Steve & Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River. There I was asked, if I could sum up my year as shin shin, in one word, what would it be? I thought about it for a long time, and now, as I write this letter, at camp in the middle of a forest in northern Wisconsin, the answer is clear to me – empowering. You gave me the opportunity to be who I am, without judgment, without prejudices. Just me, in all honesty.
Thanks to you, thanks to the children, Susie, Uria, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, my host families, my amazing partner Orri. I feel unstoppable. Around January, I started writing five things for which I am grateful each day, and five wishes for the following day. Your Jewish community opened my mind and heart and made me realize how many things I have to be thankful for. Every day I found myself debating which of my ‘thank you’s” I would write today. And the wishes? Thanks to you, they came true. I am lucky, and grateful, for the privilege to learn and teach, to love, and to receive love, in a way that I will never forget.
I would like to say my “thank you’s” today to all the people that made my year so special: To my synagogue supervisors, Allie, Brian, Natalie and Susan. Working with you was always easy and pleasant. You and the students taught me a lot, and I am lucky to have you as a part of my year as shin shin.
To Heather, as we said in our last goodbye, you are a mother in your heart and were a mom to me and Orri in our year. Thank you for being so helpful, positive and kind. I am so glad I got to work with you!
To Jori, working in MJDS was one of the things that made my year complete. You are a wonderful supervisor but more than that, you are a wonderful person. You are funny, loving, and so genuine. I was waiting every week for our weekly meeting. Thank you for everything!
To my host families, the Levenbergs and the Shamahs, hosting a shin shin is a commitment. Even deciding to host says a lot about the people you are. You are warm, and you welcomed me with open arms. You could have done only the least you needed to do but decided to do a lot more. You gave me home, lots of love, laughs and memories I will never forget. Thank you for this special relationship we’ve created. I love you!
To Uria, you were such a huge part of my year. You are so clever and caring. Having you as a part of my year was incredible. I learned so much from you, laughed with you and had the best time. You were a bright spot when things were hard, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.
To Susie, I can’t explain in words the amount of love and appreciation I feel towards you. You are a wonder woman. You put all your heart in everything you do, and I could feel it in every moment of my year. I am blessed to know you, and to have you as a part of my year. Thank you for being an amazing supervisor and my family for this year and my life.
To Orri, we both set out on an amazing adventure into the unknown, without knowing each other or the people around us. We both know it took us time, but good things come slowly, without forcing them. I admire you for your choices, your captivating personality, and for the totality and soul you invested in your work and our friendship. Without you, my year would not have been the same, and I feel blessed to call you my best friend.
And to you, to all the people I ran into in one of my programs, to all the kids that taught me unconditional love, to the families I met, the people that crossed paths with me – YOU are the reason this community is so special. Without you I wouldn’t be able to have had such an experience, and I will forever be grateful for that.
As we said to our students, it’s not a goodbye, it’s a see you later – until we meet again.
2022-2023 Milwaukee Shin Shin
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A pair of shin shins, pre-army high school graduates, visit Milwaukee for a year annually, part of a program of Milwaukee Federation and the Jewish Agency for Israel. This is Maya Appleboim’s goodbye letter to the community; for Orri’s, click here.