Asaf Cohen is 17 years old and is from the agricultural community of Givat Ada in which his family has lived for four generations. His majors in school are physics and theatre. He loves graphic design and enjoys reading English books.
He feels a deep sense of responsibility to serve their country as a part of their Shnat Sherut and to connect with and learn about Jews in the diaspora.
Seventeen-year-old Rotem Sahar is from Kfar Saba. In school, she majors in physics and medical studies and plans to be a doctor. She has volunteered for Magen David Adom for three years. She enjoys singing and playing the guitar and drums and has a popular fashion blog.
D’var Israel 2018/2019
In five days from now, I’ll be on my way to Israel, to my home, to my family. It has been four months since I hugged my brothers, ate my grandma’s food and slept in my own bed. On the one hand, it feels like I just got here yesterday, you know how they say, “Time flies by when you’re having fun”. But on the other hand, it feels like I’ve been here for ages, and for some reason, it feels like the time goes slower and slower the closer the temperature gets to zero. As you can probably imagine, this whole experience has been so intense for me. Besides being a ShinShinit, I’m still an 18-year-old girl who lives a 13 hour flight from her family. But it’s not only that that makes this experience so intense — it’s that being a Canadian Jew, is so different from being Israeli.
Before I came to Canada, I thought being Canadian meant you love hockey, maple syrup, and walking in a T-shirt in December. And while so far these things seem to be true, I have learned that being a Canadian Jew means so much more. The best way to begin explaining this is through a story of an experience I had in my first few weeks in Toronto.
When I first got here, I had to find a place to get my nails done. One day on my way to yoga, I saw a nail salon a few minutes from my house, so I scheduled an appointment. When I arrived for my appointment, I started to talk with the manicurist, and I heard her accent. I could tell she wasn’t originally from Canada, so I asked her where she was from. She said Iran; I froze. To be honest, at that moment, I almost started to cry. Someone from Iran, maybe Israel’s greatest enemy, sitting in front of me, doing my nails. The destiny of my nails was in her hands. I came home terrified, and I told my host dad about what happened. His reaction surprised me, he laughed.
He told me that meeting a Muslim from Iran in Toronto isn’t very uncommon. In fact, he told me that many of the students he taught were from Iran and that the students and their families were very sweet, kind people. I was still skeptical, how could this Iranian person doing my nails be okay that I was Israeli? Going against my host dad’s advice, when I went back to the nail salon, I made an appointment with a different manicurist. And I could tell right away from her accent, that she was also from Iran. Once we started speaking, she heard my accent, of course, she asked me where I was from. I was very afraid to tell her I was Israeli, but I did. I was completely shocked by her reaction, she said, “My best friend is Israeli.”
The rest of our conversation was amazing. She asked me about the ShinShinim program and about my family in Israel. I asked her about her family in Iran and her moving to Canada. I had so much fun sharing my feelings and my thoughts with someone that was, overall, going through a similar experience to mine. Besides being Muslim and a Jew, we’re both young girls who live far from home and miss our parents. Since then, doing my nails is one of my favourite activities of the month. I get to relax from the busy week and just talk with my new Iranian friend.
This whole experience made me understand more about what it means to be Canadian Jew, and especially a Jewish person in Toronto. I learned that being Canadian Jew is more than rooting for your hockey team, eating funnel cakes at Canada’s Wonderland, or getting frostbite. It’s about hope. It’s about hope for a place where two young girls, one Iranian and Muslim and one Israeli and Jewish, who come from very different places, can be friends because on the inside they want the same things. They want a safe place to live, peace in their homeland, and a good friend.
When I return to Israel next week, I know that this is one of the stories I will share with my friends and family about being a Jewish person in Toronto. But I know that even if I could tell them the story a thousand times, they will never truly feel what I felt.
At the airport, before I flew to Toronto, my mom told me that when I’ll come back to Israel, I’d be a completely different person: more independent and more mature – and I feel I already am. But what I didn’t expect is how differently I’ll see the world after four months.
Next week, on November 4th, will be Rabin’s Memorial Day.
We will commemorate the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, the 5th Prime Minister of Israel, who was killed by an Israeli Jewish assassin in 1995. Rabin’s murder was the second time in Jewish history that a Jew killed another Jew with politics at the core; the first time was the assassination of Gedaliah Ben-Achikam, who was the ruler of the Jewish people who remained in the region of Judea after the ruin of the first Temple.
The murder of Gedaliah split the Jewish community of that time, and led to the fall of the Jewish settlement in the region. As such a traumatic event, the day of Gedaliah’s murder is still observed in the Jewish world as Tzom Gedaliah, even though the murder happened 2600 years ago.
In a similar way, the murder of Yitzhak Rabin tore the Israeli democracy apart, and led to a period of chaos and uncertainty. Rabin was instrumental in the Israeli path for peace. He was a leader, a war hero, and had strong core values and beliefs. He was a man of action whose life was cut short. But we only know these things from stories told by our parents and teachers.
You see, we were born five years after his assassination, and we have no point of reference for what it was like to live under his government. However, the fact that we are standing here today and commemorating his memory shows how much influence a single man can have for generations to come.
We can talk about Rabin’s life, legacy, mistakes and achievements for hours, but today we want to talk about something else. In the last few years we can see a change in the way people see Rabin’s memorial day, it became less about grieving his death and more of an opportunity to talk about different topics:
- We talk about peace and the things we are willing to sacrifice for it. Unlike the picture painted in the world media, the conflict with the Palestinians is a topic that remains in the background of Israeli life. Actually, the average Israeli just doesn’t talk about it as much anymore, rather focusing on the human aspects of our everyday lives. Rabin’s memorial is a yearly reminder to continue to engage in conversations toward peace and resolution.
- We talk about the border between incitement and the freedom of speech. While many believe the murder was committed by a single assassin, Yigal Amir, we know that it was the result of propaganda and violent rallies aimed at Rabin. People photo shopping Rabin’s face into Nazi SS uniforms, burning his picture, yelling statements like “Death to Rabin” — these all made it possible for Amir to pull the trigger. On this day, we remind ourselves that our words, and how we use them shape the world around us.
- We talk about tolerance, one of Rabin’s core values. Tolerance to our friends, family, neighbours and those who think differently than us. We remind ourselves that a society with no variety is not worth fighting for.
- We talk about democracy. In these tense days, when the Israeli society is torn between its religious and political identity, we are reminded that everyone deserves a voice.
- We talk about hope. Hope for quieter days, when we won’t be checking our phones for constant updates about casualties. Hope that we’ll find the path to lead us forward. Hope that Israel is not forever described as a small state surrounded by enemies.
While we lost a leader that day 23 years ago, we learned an important lesson as a society, as a country and as people.
May we one day find the answers,
דבר ישראל – שגרה
Routine in English, it is defined as a customary or regular course of procedure.
You get up in the morning, you brush your teeth, you take your kids to school and you go to work. This is the normal course of everyday life, and even if something happens that may deter you from this course, you usually get on with your life rather quickly.
Let’s give an example of a typical routine in Canada: If you wake up and there is five inches of snow outside, it doesn’t mean your day is cancelled. You get up, you put on a coat, and you shovel the driveway. It’s just a part of your normal.
Now let’s try a different one: You wake up, you’re on your way to school when the bus suddenly stops. There’s a suspicious object on the road, traffic has been stopped until the bomb squad makes sure that there isn’t any impending danger.
You wake up, it’s 6.00 a.m. on a Sunday, you say goodbye to your parents and start your long journey back to the army base you serve in, knowing your next weekend break is 21 days away.
You wake up, you’re in the car taking your kids to school. A siren is heard. Everything freezes. You stop the car at the side of the road, take the kids out and lie on the ground. Twenty-five seconds later, an explosion is seen in the sky, another rocket interception.
You see, in Hebrew, the definition of routine is different.
According to Wikipedia, it is the course of events at any time that is not an emergency.
We literally define our lives as that thing that happens between one emergency and the next. But of course, we, as Israelis, don’t follow definitions. Instead, we make routine out of emergency.
In a country where teens like me live their daily lives knowing that at the end of high school they’ll be putting themselves at daily risk to protect our country, and just one and a half hours away, the same time it takes to get from Thornhill to the my house via TTC, my aunt is taking a shower, one ear always focused to check for sirens.
In a country like Israel, the only way to live is to make emergency into routine.
Our headlines change quickly. A terrorist attack that killed 11 on Saturday might not even appear in the next Saturday’s news. Because if we stopped our lives for every siren, every bomb, every shooting and every stabbing we would never stop stopping, we would spend our days in that gap between one emergency and the next, and that is no way to live.
I’ll finish on a lighter note, saying that instead, we must find life in the space between hardships, we must grow, even if the sunlight is scarce. Because even in times of conflict we can find goodness.
Sometimes, when tension rises in the south, you can see posts flooding social media outlets of people offering their spare rooms to anyone who needs them until things calm down.
Just last week the rabbi from Ramot Shalom in Be’er Sheva told us how they opened their space to families whose kids were left with nothing to do when schools closed.
Each and everyone of us has to make sure we remember to live not just between the emergencies, but in every moment.
Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.
דבר ישראל ראשון
Hi, my name is Rotem and I’m Asaf, and we are the new ShinShinim of Temple Sinai and Bialik Hebrew Day School.
We are so excited to stand here before you on this special Shabbat on which we celebrate Sukkot, one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals.
I remember building and decorating the Sukkah with my father and grandfather every year as a child, and the sense of pride I felt sitting in it with my family.
Every year my brothers and I choose a day and sleep in the sukkah, eat snacks, and tell scary stories.
This year, I got a selfie from them, sleeping in the sukkah without me, and I was so moved to see that my two younger brothers continued the tradition even in my absence.
Every year, during the early days of Sukkot, I sit with my mother, and we spend hours making dozens of Sukkot decorations.
We talk about the new year, and our hopes for the coming months, and then hang the decorations all around our yard and house.
One of the Special prayers of Sukkot is the prayer of welcoming the “Ushpizin”: The spirits of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah, and to let each of them teach us a unique lesson.
It is a common assumption to think that the ShinShinim’s role is only to deliver their unique perspective of Israel, like the Ushpizin bring their own unique lessons.
However, unlike the Ushpizin, we are here not only to teach but to learn as well.
Learn about the Jewish world beyond Israel, about synagogues in the Diaspora, about everyday hardships Jews around the world face, about the Reform movement, and of course, about Temple Sinai.
A significant part of our role as ShinShinim is to later bring these lessons back to Israel and teach the community there about our experience.
On this special Shabbat, we had the opportunity to thank you all. For welcoming us, unlike the Ushpizin, not only on Sukkot, but on each and every single day from the moment we arrived.
About a month ago, I left my home in Kfar Saba, said goodbye to my parents, Zehavit and Meir, and to my two younger brothers, Itay and Omer, and boarded a plane.
About a month ago, I left my home in Givat Ada, said goodbye to my parents, Eynat and Ronen, and to my two older brothers, Omri and Ohad, and boarded a plane.
We flew for 13 hours, across many countries and seas, not knowing exactly where we were headed.
Now, 42 days later, we are starting to understand our role here, in your lives, and hope that you’re starting to understand your role in ours.
We are so thrilled to be a part of your wonderful community, and we’re looking forward to getting to know every single one of you better.
So as the Rabbi said, don’t be shy to tell us your name over and over again.
May this year be full of growth and learning for us all.