ShinShinim find a warm welcome in Tidewater

September 8, 2022

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Aya Sever and Alma Ben Chorin, Tidewater’s ShinShiniot, arrived in August and are getting to know the community. Shin Shin is an acronym in Hebrew that means Shnat Sherut—a year of service. Many Israeli teens choose to postpone their military service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for one year to volunteer, and the ShinShinim program is one opportunity open to them. After a rigorous year of screening, training, and interviews, Sever and Ben Chorin were selected for this program.

Aya Mia Sever

I live in Kfar Saba, Israel, with my parents Shelly and Yaron, my sisters Ela, Shira, and Amalia, and my beautiful dog, Sushi. I love my family so much. We spend a lot of quality time together. Every Friday evening, we have a “Kiddush” with my grandparents and on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Purim we go to the synagogue. I already miss them!

When I was in the fourth grade, I joined the Israeli Scouts (Tzofim) and it was great to be part of such a diverse social group where you can find your own safe space and receive inspiring guidance from instructors. The Tzofim has been my second home for the past nine years. I was so grateful to have them during the COVID-19 lockdowns, when we could make a difference by sending gifts to quarantined children and adopting elderly neighbors that we called weekly.

Over time, my desire to be an influential figure in the Tzofim strengthened. I wanted to be an “older sister” for other kids. In 10th and 11th grades, I instructed groups of kids and last year I was the head of the team that was responsible for maintenance of our Scout’s troop facility. We tended to its appearance and logistics and even established a community garden. Our team also developed the relationship between the Scouts and Kfar Saba’s community by volunteering throughout the city.

I always wanted to be a ShinShin—being in this program is my dream. I’m happy to have the chance to meet the Jewish community here. It will teach me a lot about myself and my Jewish identity. I look forward to meeting everyone and am ready to share my knowledge and experiences from Israel.

Alma Ben Chorin

I grew up in Herzliya, Israel with my parents and two sisters. Herzliya, where I’ve lived my entire life, is a great small city near Tel Aviv with lovely beaches. My older sister is 22 years old, and an officer in the IDF. My younger sister is 15 and will be starting high school this month.

My family is very close, and we love to travel, both around Israel and abroad. My extended family is also very close—my parents’ siblings and mothers live in Ramat Hasharon, the city next to us. We meet every Friday at my grandmother’s house for dinner. I look forward to these dinners all week.

I was very involved in the Israeli Scout program. I joined the Scouts in the fourth grade with my friends from school and we met twice a week all the way through 12th grade. In ninth grade, we spent the year learning how to become leaders. I spent the next three years leading groups of girls from fifth through ninth grade with various backgrounds. Last year I was also leader of the ninth graders, so I had to teach them how to become leaders while still working with other tribes.

In addition to my work in the Scouts and school, I’m a dancer. I started ballet when I was in kindergarten and fell in love with flamenco in first grade. I became very serious in my dancing and went to the studio at least three times a week. We had a few competitions and workshops with dancers from Spain, and I even became a dance instructor for younger children in ninth grade. I also did hip-hop and modern dancing in different studios.

A busy first week

Sever and Ben Chorin landed in Norfolk on Thursday, August 18 and were warmly welcomed by Nofar Trem, their supervisor and youth and family program manager at United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

The Tidewater Jewish community opened their homes and hearts to the ShinShiniot the moment they arrived and have been busy showing them around the area. Their first hosts were Herm and Patty Shelanski, who gave them a tour of the Norfolk Naval Base and Norfolk.

During their first weekend, they attended the End of Summer Shabbat Dinner and Pool Party at the Simon Family JCC, their first American baseball game with Ohef Sholom Temple, and were guests at the Nanesmond Tribe’s annual Indian Homecoming Pow Wow.

After meeting with local clergy and educators, touring area synagogues, working out of their new offices at UJFT, and staying with their host family, Laura and Fred Gross, Sever and Ben Chorin are diving into the work that they are here for as a part of the ShinShinim program.

“We cannot wait to meet more of the community and start working,” says Ben Chorin “We hope you feel the same.”

“We love Israel and are proud of being Israelis,” says Sever. “We are honored to have the opportunity to bring Israel to Virginia and hope new friendships and connections will bring Tidewater residents closer to Israel.”

To learn more about the ShinShinim program or to get involved, visit JewishVA.org/ShinShinim or contact Nofar Trem at ntrem@ujft.org or 757-321-2334.


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