Meet the St. Louis Shinshinim: Alma Cohen


Ellen Futterman, Editor-in-Chief

A Shinshin is an Israeli emissary, usually 18 or 19 years old, who defers their army service for a year to volunteer in Jewish communities abroad to help educate people there about Israel and Israeli culture. They teach at various local Jewish organizations, bringing their authentic Israel experiences to the community they serve.

“Largely, they work with the young population, ages 4 through 18,” explained Cynthia Wachtel, manager of Israel Emissary Initiatives at the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. “The fact that these children and teens are meeting an Israeli closer in age to them helps foster better connections, find similarities and learn from each other. It works both ways though. For the Shinshinim, they get to live here and absorb what Jewish Americans are like, and they bring that back to Israel with them and hopefully share that with friends and family.”

The latest and sixth cohort of Shinshinim will leave return to their homes in Israel in August, after spending the year in St. Louis. The Jewish Light sat down with the four Israelis in this cohort – Guy Dobrin, 19, Alma Cohen, 18, Inbar Bachar, 18, and Inbar Bloch, 18 –to find out more about them and how their time here is going.

Where in Israel are you from?

Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet, which is in Megiddo, our partnership area (with Jewish Federation of St. Louis).

What does your job as a Shinshin in St. Louis entail?

I work fulltime at Mirowitz (Jewish Community) school. I work with all the ages. It started out with me being only a part of Hebrew lessons. I usually come and choose a topic that is related to Israel. I try to connect the kids in an informal way. Then I started working a lot with their other classes like social studies. I go to Jefferson City with them. I’m going on overnight trips with them. I try to be involved as much as I can.

What has been your impression of St. Louis?

I think the people are very warm. I didn’t think I would feel it to this level. I think a lot of people care deeply about their involvement in the community. People here show us that they want us here and that our jobs are important to them and that’s something I really like about this community. 

What is something you’ve noticed about working in the Jewish community that is unique/different in St. Louis?

The way that we have such a huge support system here. At Federation we have Cynthia, of course, and our host families have been great. It’s funny, you don’t think host families are going to be such a big part of your stay here, but when they are that inclusive and treat you with so much love and care, it makes the whole experience better. Our host families have been so incredible.

What’s been the biggest surprise of your time in St.Louis so far?

I didn’t think driving would be so much different than it is in Israel, in a good way. It’s better driving here. Much easier than in Israel. (Unfortunately, Cohen had her Kia stolen from her host family’s home in University City. It was later recovered, but not in the best shape.)

Would you encourage your peers to become a Shinshin and if so, why? What are the benefits of being one in St. Louis?

Yes, for sure. You learn a lot about what it’s like being independent, being responsible for having a job, taking care of your car, and your family, being on top of things. But also on a deeper level, I feel like you don’t really know how the Jewish American community experiences Israel until you come and you bring it to them, or you learn from them. You get a completely different perspective about Israel living here, but you also can give an individual one about what life is like there.

What are your thoughts about the political situation in Israel of late? Do you have any personal concerns?

I try to stay on top of things, so I read a lot. I feel the hardest part is being so far away from it now. Without saying too much, I don’t think this is anything we ever saw before in Israel. I dont remember growing up with something like this, so what’s going on there is new.