Milwaukee will be graced for the next several months with the presence of two young Israeli emissaries, who specifically wanted to come to this city to immerse themselves in the Jewish community.
The two 18-year-old shin shins are Tom Ram of Kinneret and Eitan Mizrahi Groiss of Kefar Tavor. They are part of a program in which young adults come to Milwaukee for a year to spend some time abroad before entering the armed forces. Shin shins typically spend summertime at the Steve & Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River, in addition to their service in the Milwaukee area during the academic year.
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.
“Since I heard about this place, I have felt a connection to this place. I just feel connected,” Ram said, noting that her uncle’s wife, who was also a shin shin in Milwaukee years ago, inspired her to come here for a gap year.
“I can’t wait to meet the community, and Milwaukee from what I’ve seen is such an amazing place,” she added.
For Groiss, the city has always had a special place in his heart as his family hosted delegations from Milwaukee when he was a child.
“I was sure I was going to Milwaukee,” he said. “It just felt right for me. I felt connected to this community before even coming to the United States.”
Groiss said his motivation to do this service stems from the importance of keeping Jewish people from around the globe connected to those living in Israel.
“We are all family,” he said.
Groiss will bring a wealth of volunteer experiences to Milwaukee, including time spent helping in a food bank and working with children with special needs.
Groiss is an accomplished rugby player and was a member of the under-18 Israel national team for four years. He is also an avid Bucks fan, saying “I fell in love with the club” and owns a Giannis Antetokounmpo jersey. He also enjoys music of every genre, from American rap to Italian hip hop.
Groiss, the oldest of three, plans to focus on diplomacy in his college studies.
“I like to hear other opinions because then I just have a better opinion,” he said.
Ram will study biotechnology in school.
“I was just really interested in how things work, how my body works and how the world works,” she said.
Ram began volunteering when she was 10 years old, helping organize and lead activities at a camp for young children. As a teenager, she has been a counselor at a youth club and has used the skills she learned in theater classes to help direct parts in the local holiday celebrations.
“All of this fills me and gives me a sense of mission and giving. I feel an active part of my community,” she said.
When Ram was 13 years old, she went to summer camp in Europe where she was exposed to a Jewish community that was not in Israel.
“It was an amazing experience and I got so much from that,” Ram said. “I learned a lot about cultures and how you can be Jewish without living in Israel.”
Specifically, it was one of the first times that she was exposed to Reform Judaism and it was a place where she could feel Jewish without being in Israel.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m more Israeli than Jewish. And here you can see that you can be Jewish without living in Israel,” she said.
Ram is also driven by her love for the performing arts, having learned how to play the electronic guitar and the piano and having performed in theater. The oldest of four children in her family, she remembers gathering her family to sit in a circle on Saturdays as she performed in the center.
“I would just do things for them and sing for them,” she said.