In year of service, young Shinshinit connects St. Louis Jews to Israel

Shaked Birenboim and Guy Nachum are the Israeli teens currently serving in the Shinshinim program in St. Louis. Read more about Guy and Shaked, as well as past Shinshinim on the Jewish Federation’s website: 

By Jordan Eisen, Sophomore, Parkway North

Every year, the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Shinshinim program sends young Israelis to Jewish communities across the United States and Canada to serve as community educators and share what Israel is like.

The Israeli teens who take part in the Shinshinim program (the name is based on the Hebrew words for “year of service”) are recent high school graduates who defer their service in the Israel Defense Forces for a year to volunteer in a community abroad. 

Shaked Birenboim and Guy Nachum are the two young Israelis serving in the Shinshinim program in St. Louis, working to enrich Jewish teens with her firsthand knowledge of the Jewish homeland. 


Birenboim said she enrolled in the Shinshinim program because of her experiences teaching Jews about Israel. 

“I was a camper at a camp for Israelis and Arabs in Canada. After that experience, I knew I wanted to travel more,” said Birenboim. “I then went to Bulgaria where I taught kids Hebrew. This is when I knew I wanted to be a Shinshinit.” 

Birenboim, who arrived here in August, said that she is enjoying her experience and already feels comfortable in the community.

“I already feel really connected and comfortable with your incredible community,” said Birenboim. “I have met such great, warming, and accepting people here that made me feel at home since the moment I had arrived.”

After spending a few months here, Birenboim has been surprised by many aspects of daily life in the United States.

“In America, everything’s big, the cars, highways, houses, meals. Also everything’s ready, like food comes in cans or packets,” said Birenboim.

In St. Louis, the Shinshinim program is a partnership of the Jewish Agency, Jewish Federation of St. Louis and four congregations, B’nai Amoona, Kol Rinah, Shaare Emeth and United Hebrew. 

During her year in St. Louis, Birenboim will stay with four host families. The first has been the family of Joel and Jessica Samson, who are members of Shaare Emeth. Host families not only provide a home to stay in, but also serve as a bridge to the local Jewish community. In addition to helping Birenboim feel like she has a place in the Jewish community, the Samsons say they have enjoyed Birenboim as an addition to their family.

“Helping introduce her to St. Louis and the United States has been rewarding. We have all learned about each other’s respective cultures and benefited from our discussions,” said Joel Samson.

While they were on vacation in Israel, the Samsons had a chance to meet Birenboim before she came to St. Louis.

“[Meeting Birenboim in Israel] made this whole process and adjustment a little easier for everyone,” said Samson.

Once the Samsons introduced Birenboim to the Jewish community, she began working with children at Kol Rinah and Shaare Emeth.

“Within my work here I am assigned to teach about Israel to the ECC age, pre-kindergarten, the youth movement, and NFTY [North American Federation for Temple Youth] and USY [United Synagogue Youth],” said Birenboim.

Birenboim’s presence has been felt by many children and teens across St. Louis as she helps them learn about life in Israel.

“We get to ask questions to understand more about what life is like there and how it is different than here,” said Sarah Pernik, Shaare Emeth Temple Youth Group’s communications vice president. “Shaked is always happy to answer any questions we have or help us out. She is funny, always in a good mood, and fun to be around.”