Young Israelis share their love of country with St. Louis teens

St. Louis’ Shinshinim for 2020-2021 are (from left) Gilad Helbatz Sofer, Dana Koren and Evyatar Shachar.

By Ilana Boyer, Sophomore, Whitfield

Every year, St. Louis welcomes three to four Israeli teens representing the Shinshin program through the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. A shinshin is an 18-year-old from Israel  who defers army service for a year to come to the United States to spread his or her passion and knowledge of Israel. 

Every year, youth in the St. Louis Jewish community are lucky to meet and learn from these Israeli teens. The students and teens with whom the shinshin work are given a look into Israeli life and culture through listening to Israeli music, playing Israeli games and other fun activities.

This year, despite the pandemic, three shinshinim are in St. Louis: Gilad Helbatz Sofer, Dana Koren and Evyatar Shachar. They made it here safely, are thriving in their schools or synagogues and are very happy to be soaking in St. Louis. I had the pleasure of speaking with them about their lives here compared to their lives back in Israel. The Jewish kids and teens in St. Louis are incredibly lucky to have these three amazing and passionate shinshinim in their lives this year. 

Sofer is from Nofit, a small town in northern Israel, about 20 minutes from Haifa. He is spending this year working at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School with students in all grade levels. 

He loves working with the students, teaching them about Israeli culture through games and music. He connects with them by comparing Jewish holidays in the United States and Israel. Along with his passion for Israel, he loves to spend time with his family and friends.

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“I really love to cook, run, swim, listen to music and discover and travel to new places,” Sofer said. “Especially here, I love cooking Israeli food and exploring the city and its surroundings.” 

Koren is from a kibbutz in the northern part of Israel. After this year in St. Louis, she plans to be a combat fitness instructor when she joins the Israeli army next year. She is very passionate about Israel, which is one of the main reasons she decided to be a part of this program. 

“A main reason I came up with is to strengthen the connection between Israel and the diaspora Jews,” Koren said. “(I want) to contribute my knowledge and skill, to be meaningful to influence and to hopefully show and bring Israel (to the St. Louis community) in the most authentic way.”

Koren loves to work with the kids at United Hebrew Congregation, Temple Emanuel and the Israeli Scouts. Aside from teaching about Israel, she loves to sing, play the piano, hike, explore the city, and spend time with family and friends. 

Shachar, who just turned 19, is from Ashkelon, a city on the Mediterranean coast, 45 minutes from Tel Aviv. “It was very important to me to make a good connection with the Jewish people in Israel to the Jewish people abroad,” he said. “I don’t know about being a Jew in a diaspora, so it is a really important thing in life to get to know how other people live their life.”

Shachar is eager to learn more about what it is like to be Jewish in America. He loves to travel, cook, take photos and videos, and spend time with close friends and family. One of his dreams is to be a commercial airline pilot, and he started flying school a few years ago. 

He works with Temple Israel, Kol Rinah, Israeli Scouts, and the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC), which is another program through the Jewish Federation.

This year’s shinshinim are thrilled to be here and would love to form new connections with more people in St. Louis. They are all very kind and welcoming and are great additions to the Jewish community this year.