Harriette Golob Wienner stood in the outdoor garden in Ashkelon, tears in her eyes, watching Liron Menashe walk down the aisle. She could not believe she had known this young Israeli for only 11 years; it felt as if her own daughter was getting married.
Wienner first met Menashe when she arrived in Baltimore from Ashkelon to serve as a shinshin, an Israeli emissary, hoping to connect students and adults to Israel. Wienner and her husband, Steve, were her host family.
For the Wienner family, it was an incredibly rewarding year. As they took her on trips to the beach and University of Maryland football games, as they celebrated Passover with Mensahe and her mother, they began to really understand Israeli life through the eyes of this 18-year-old.
“Not only would our children gain a big sister but she also brought Israel to life in our home,” says Wienner. “Today, we no longer see the country as this place 6,000 miles away, but we see it as a place where we have life-long friends.”
For more than a decade, the Macks Center for Jewish Education, through funding allocated by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, has brought two Israeli teens to Baltimore to connect with community members. Much of the time they interact with youngsters and teens through programming at area schools and Jewish groups.
Over the years, the program has proven so successful that next year, Baltimore will be one of five communities that will expand the Shinshinim program to a new model, in partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel. Through this model, eight shinshinim will arrive in Baltimore this fall, increasing opportunities for Baltimoreans to form personal relationships with and feel connected to Israelis.
Vered and Marty Taylor, and their two children, were fortunate to host two shinshinim; Yuval Saadon in 2015 and Avia Eliyahu in fall, 2017.
Although the Taylors have been to Israel multiple times – Vered’s family lives there – they saw it as a chance for their two young children to have a big sister, while sharing Jewish Baltimore with the Israelis.
“Scouting was a big part of Avia’s life and she brought her enthusiasm for Scouts to the U.S. with her, along with her Scout uniform,” says Marty Taylor. “Our son, Guy, is also involved in Scouts and Avia shared so much about Scouts in Israel with him and his Cub Scout Pack. The Scouts also were interested to know that scouting is worldwide.”
The Taylors also took their two shinshinim to many Baltimore events that support Israel, demonstrating the community’s commitment to the Jewish state.
Today, Eliyahu is still in Baltimore but Saadon has returned to Israel. The Taylor family still texts and Facetimes her. When they are in Israel, Marty Taylor says, “I Iike to catch up and see how our Israeli daughter is doing.”
Wienner feels the same way. In fact, when her daughter, Jenny, was in Israel for a dance program, she spent many Shabbat dinners at the Menashes’ home and the former shinshin came to her performances.
“We have so much to learn from each other,” says Wienner. “This program brings Israel
to life for so many young Baltimoreans
who may never, otherwise, meet an Israeli contemporary.”
To become a host family, go to cjebaltimore.org.