By Raquel Binder–In late January, 55 of Toronto’s leading Jewish community professionals and lay leaders landed in Israel for the annual UJA Israel Engagement Mission. The mission – focused on the selection of UJA’s Israel Engagement ShinShinim for 2017/2018 – looked back on celebrating 10 years of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s ShinShinim program, and provided professional development opportunities through the lens of Jewish Peoplehood and partnership.
UJA’s Israel Engagement ShinShinim are young Israeli leaders who defer their army service for one year to volunteer in the GTA. Each year, the ShinShinim are hosted by local Toronto families, and engage more than 3,000 Jewish community members with cutting-edge programs focusing on contemporary Israel. Toronto’s ShinShinim are active in over 35 day schools, synagogues, supplementary schools, youth movements, community programs, and summer camps across Toronto, with increasing demand each and every year. The ShinShinim informally teach about Israel through creative programs and challenging discussions, bringing an authentic Israel experience to the Toronto Community.
Through continued partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel – an overseas partner of UJA Federation – this year’s ShinShinim candidates represented the most diverse yet. UJA Federation will be bringing 25 young Israelis to Toronto as ShinShinim – the largest cohort in the Diaspora – including 5 from UJA Federation’s partner region Eilat-Eilot.
The mission included a day of cutting-edge professional development with UJA Federation’s strategic partners at the Nadav Foundation and Beit Hatfutsot- the Museum of the Jewish People. Mission participants learned about how multiple narratives of Israel and the Jewish people affect us as community leaders, educators, and Jews. Our educational theme continued with a presentation from Israel Story, Israel’s leading podcast followed by a pluralistic, Peoplehood-focused Shabbaton. Mission participants, together with the new ShinShinim, were challenged to think out of the box as to how Toronto, under the leadership of UJA Federation, can continue to push the envelope as Israel Engagement pioneers
A highlight of the mission was the celebration of a decade of the ShinShinim program. The mission began with a Shabbaton for the Shevet (ShinShinim alumni) where 40 ShinShinim alumni representing all of the past 9 kommunahs gathered in Tel Aviv for a weekend of networking and strategy. A few days later, many of the over 100 ShinShinim alumni living in Israel gathered at Beit Hatfutsot for the annual Shevet reunion. The reunion serves as an opportunity for UJA professionals, lay leaders, and Site Supervisors to recognnect with their past ShinShinim. The Shevet members continue to represent Toronto as Jewish Peoplehood leaders in Israel.
While the selection of ShinShinim serves as the impetus for the annual mission, it has evolved into an unparalled professional development opportunity. Not only do 55 community leaders (professional and lay, from nearly 30 institutions in Toronto) come together to select the next cohort of ShinShinim, they also come together to learn, explore and push the envelope of what it means to be an Israel-engaged community. The mission is an incredible opportunity to highlight the transformative work of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto in Israel, and to connect the leaders of our community through the platform of Jewish Peoplehood and partnership.
Raquel Binder is Manager, Israel Engagement & Program Director, Diller Fellowship, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.