Five months after arriving with little knowledge of the Steel City, Pittsburgh’s shinshinim consider the community home. Friendships and relationships developed in day-to-day activities have bolstered Hadar Maravent and Raz Levin’s affinity for the city of bridges while facilitating the aims of their year-long volunteer service program.
Maravent and Levin are teenage emissaries who — through support of the Jewish Agency of Israel and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh — deferred their Israeli army service in order to connect the community with Israel and Israeli culture. Through regular visits to Community Day School, J-JEP, J-Line, Temple Sinai and other area organizations and synagogues, Maravent and Levin have created tangible bonds between the Jewish state and local residents, explained Kim Saltzman, director of Israel and Overseas Operations at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
The demand for Maravent and Levin’s involvement in communal activities has been exceptionally high, added Shani Turel, Federation’s shinshinim coordinator.
For their part — even with six-day workweeks — the shinshinim are pleased with how the year has gone.
“In a lot of the places that we went, I felt like we are the live connection to Israel,” said Levin. For local youth, interactions with Maravent and Levin are often “the first time that they could speak freely to Israelis who are more or less their age.”
They both felt providing such a platform was particularly significant in light of recent events.
Immediately after Oct. 27, “it was really important for me to see the kids that I work with, or the teenagers that I work with, or the teachers that I work with or to reach out to make a phone call,” said Maravent.
These actions were mutually beneficial, she explained.
“I felt my impact. I felt that I had people here that I have connections with. I felt like I was meaningful here, like that these relationships are meaningful to me too, really to feel like I was a part of something here and not just the guest. I’m not just a visitor.”
The tragedy also provided a new understanding between the community and Israelis, explained Levin.
“It made people understand the pain that Israelis are going through,” said Levin. “When we speak about terror attacks, people have a different connection with it now than it was before the shooting happened.”
Having worked tirelessly since their August arrival, the shinshinim are scheduled to return home to their families for a two-week break. After that, the teenagers will begin work on upcoming Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut programs, said Saltzman. Then they’ll spend the summer on staff at Emma Kaufmann Camp. When they’re done here, Maravent and Levin will return home to begin army service. In the meantime, they’re glad to be having this experience.
“I want people to know that we are grateful and appreciative to the role that the community lets us take their in their lives,” said Maravent.
Seeing the community come together and embrace them was “beautiful,” added Levin.
Support for the shinshinim has been tremendous, said Saltzman.
Moving forward, creating relationships with the shinshinim will become easier, as the program will welcome four participants next year, added Turel.
“[Maravent] and [Levin] have really been working around the clock and trying to reach out and meet as many kids and youth” as possible, said the Federation staffer. “We’ve learned that we’ve been spreading them out thinly.” Having four people will enable the shinshinim “to invest more in personal connections and in their specific lines of work, instead of trying to do everything.”
But Maravent clarifies that they’re not too busy to be accessible.
“For anyone that wants to talk to us, to ask anything, please reach out. We’re more than available. We are more than happy to just talk over a cup of coffee with whoever wants or feels like they want to ask anything in the world.”
Informal get-togethers have been successful engagement mechanisms, echoed Levin.
“Kids and youth are curious and they always keep asking us questions. It’s really fun.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.