Meet St. Louis’ Shinshinim

Young Israelis volunteer as emissaries, sharing Israeli culture with communities abroad.


Here are just a few things they’re going to miss when they return home to Israel in August: Chipotle’s, Trader Joe’s, sale shopping and all of St. Louis’ professional sports teams.

“There’s no hockey in Israel,” said Guy Dobrin, 19, laughing with the other three Israeli teens participating in the Shinshinim program in St. Louis this year.

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.”

This is the sixth group of Shinshinim to come to St. Louis in as many years. They arrived in August 2022 for a one-year stay. Through generous support from the Lubin-Green Foundation, Federation provides each of them with a monthly stipend, access to a car, health insurance and a laptop while they in turn work fulltime at local religious and Hebrew schools, early childhood centers and with Jewish teen groups. They live with families who have volunteered to host them, changing homes – and host families — every three months or so.

Wachtel, who jokes she’s not only program supervisor but also mom and an older sister to the Shinshinim, explained that St. Louis got involved with the program after a 2014 St. Louis Jewish community demographic study showed a lack of connection between Jewish St. Louisans and Israel.

“We obviously cannot take everybody in the St. Louis Jewish community to Israel, so (the Shinshinim program) is the next best thing,” said Wachtel. “We are bringing Israel to St. Louis – what better way than to bring these brilliant 18-year-olds here? 

“Each one brings their own Israel here, the way they were brought up, their own personal experiences. Some are from kibbutz, some live in the city, some are from our partnership region (of Yoknean-Megiddo). We’ve been very lucky to have a good diversity within the Shinshinim that have come to St. Louis. Of course, the teaching about Israel and Israeli culture and creating that knowledge is important, but the relationships that they form with community members they meet is what is so lasting.”

As emissaries, the Shinshinim are reluctant to comment too much about the current political situation in Israel, which involves Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government’s proposal to reduce the power of Israel’s Supreme Court. That said, they expressed equal parts concern and hope for normalcy, but as one described their homeland, “It’s never boring.”  

Recently, the Jewish Light got a chance to sit down with Dobrin, Alma Cohen, 18, Inbar Bachar, 18, and Inbar Bloch, 18 – the sixth cohort of Shinshinim to work in St. Louis – to find out more about them and how their time here is going. They are a lively and dynamic foursome who seem to be enjoying their various jobs in St. Louis and revel in the people they meet here and the places they’ve been able to go, including ski trips with their host families, Blues, Billikens and Cardinals games and an upcoming Taylor Swift concert in Chicago. 

Click on the Shinshin’s photo below to read a Q&A: