2023-2024 JEWISHcolorado Shinshinim at CHOICES event

How our Shinshinim alumni reached out after the attack on Israel

Oct 27, 2023 | Article, Newsletter

How our Shinshinim alumni reached out after the attack on Israel

Oct 27, 2023

They should be going to school, enjoying their friends, spending time with family, traveling the world.

Instead, they are going to war.

When you watch the video sent by JEWISHcolorado’s Shinshinim alumni, what strikes you is how very young, hopeful, and proud they are. They are thankful for Colorado’s support and, true to their training as emissaries, are reaching out to say, “We are happy to answer any questions you may have.”

For Michelle Schwartz, who supervises JEWISHcolorado’s Shinshinim as the Director of Israel Teen Emissaries and Education, watching the video is both reassuring—she can see the faces of young people she knows well—and heartbreaking.

“For me, many of them feel like my children, especially those that I supervised every day for the past four years,” Schwartz says. “Seeing the video was a ‘Mom moment’ because I worry about all of them—their families and their safety.”

The video arrived at JEWISHcolorado within days after the Hamas attack on October 7. How it came together is testimony to the initiative, creativity, and heartfelt gratitude of young Israelis that Schwartz calls, “the best of the best.”

How the video came to be

On the morning of Saturday, October 7, Schwartz woke up, heard the news coming out of Israel, and followed her first instincts.

“I jumped on our group chat and checked in to see if everyone was okay,” she says. “I knew that many are in the IDF and others would be called up to reserve duty, so I wanted to check on everyone.”

JEWISHcolorado’s Shinshinim program is in its tenth year. Schwartz has been in her role for the past four years, but she knew most of the Shinshinim alumni from her previous job at Temple Sinai. The group chat was an idea born during COVID-19, as a way for Schwartz and JEWISHcolorado to stay connected to these young people and follow their lives after they returned to Israel.

On October 7, Talia Schwimmer (2018-2019), who is in the reserves, was the first to respond to Schwartz with a photo. Schwimmer had maintained close ties to Colorado, returning to work at Ramah in the Rockies and, last summer, serving on the Israeli staff of the Joyce Zeff Israel Study Tour.

In short order, Schwimmer started collecting more photos.

“She said to me, ‘What are we going to do with these?’” Schwartz says. “And I told her, ‘I know exactly what we are going to do.’”

She connected Schwimmer with Adaya Koren (2022-2023) who distinguished herself with creative social posts during her time at JEWISHcolorado last year. Within a day, the video arrived.

For the staff at JEWISHcolorado, the video was met with many tears. As it spread on social media, the Colorado community responded with love, as evidenced by a text that Schwartz received from Noa Kurlender (2021-2022).

“Michelle, please make sure each and every person in the Colorado community knows how much I appreciate all the love I got these past few days. Host families, Jewish Student Connection, my Hillel friends, all the texts, thoughts, and prayers—they give me so much strength. I love and miss you all so much!”

How they are serving far from home

Every year, the Jewish Agency for Israel receives 1600-1800 applications for the
Shinshinim Program. The selectivity of the program gives Schwartz even more reason to worry during these difficult days.

“The young people who are selected are of the highest caliber,” she says. “As a result, they go into army jobs that are high-level elite units. They are the first to get called up because of their areas of expertise.”

The four Shinshinim who are currently in Colorado—Liron Amar, Afek Barda, Roni Zinger, and Talia Shalom—have had to watch events in their homeland from a distance. Schwartz says that all of them knew someone or multiple people who were killed in the terrorist attack. At first, their reaction was one of shock. They had feelings of guilt because their friends were in the IDF while they took a gap year. They felt they should be in Israel, defending their country. But by the second week, they had turned the corner and returned to work.

It helped that Schwartz reminded them that their classmates in the IDF had only been in training for two to three months and were being sent home because they were not yet ready for military action.

“If they were in Israel, they would be sitting at home,” Schwartz says. “Here, they can be Israel’s voice.”

Through one-on-one relationships and private messages, the Shinshinim serve to correct misinformation and represent Israel. Through the video, their predecessors continue to fulfill their mission. JEWISHcolorado and the entire community benefit from the strength and courage of young people who are not too young to go to war.

“I have so much love and admiration for the dedication and commitment of both the Shinshinim and the Coloradans who welcome them,” Schwartz says. “They let us be their home for a year. Going back, they have left a part of themselves here, and they have taken a part of us with them.”