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My Time with our Shinshinit Batel Mamo, by Marcy Tepner

08/05/2018 10:21:14 AM


I have always wanted a daughter, but, after 32 years, raising three boys to adulthood, I'd come to terms with my lot. A daughter was not in the cards - until this past Fall. When I heard that Darchei Noam's Shinshinit, Batel was still in need of a third host family, I jumped at the opportunity to offer her a place in our home. Having hosted Shinshinim in the past, I knew how rewarding an experience it could be.

"Shinshin" is an abbreviated term for "schnei - shiroot" - a year of volunteer service. Upon graduation from High School and prior to going into the Army, Israeli youth are encouraged to take a "gap year" and do volunteer service. The Shinshinim program has been in operation in Toronto for the past eleven years and each year the program has expanded to include more teenaged ambassadors from Israel. This year, twenty-five young Israeli emissaries are here - and they are the cream of the crop! From over 2000 applicants and a rigorous screening process, representatives from Toronto get first dibs to hand pick their Shinshinim. The host family selection process is almost as rigorous. Perspective host families must live relatively close to the institutions that the Shinshinim have been partnered up with, or at least be easily accessible to TTC. They must have a private bedroom for the Shinshin and be prepared to welcome their Shinshin into their family as if they were one of their own. Having kids at home is a definite asset, and used to be a requirement, but I believe that rule is changing. Each Shinshin has three host families over the course of the year, spending approximately 3.5 months with each family. The Shinshin then spend their summer away at a Jewish camp in Ontario as a counsellor.

After a brief discussion with my husband Stan and our youngest son Levi, I submitted a request to host. We were visited by a UJA lay leader to access our compatibility with Batel.

On March 8th, Batel Mamo, an Ethiopian-Israeli, moved into our home. Our connection with Batel was instantaneous. She was warm, outgoing, and easy to talk to. As soon as I heard her angelic voice singing Israeli songs as she unpacked in her bedroom, I knew she was a great fit for our family.

For the past two months Batel and I have bonded over singing, shopping, and cooking. We have had many insightful talks about Israeli politics, Judaism, the Ethiopian-Israeli mentality, and of course.......boys!! She has become the daughter I never had!

I have discussed program ideas with her, edited and translated her written work, chauffeured her to and from her many programs and supported her projects. Stan and I have attended every performance and presentation that Batel has been a part of - most significantly her exhibition on the Ethiopian Tribe of Dan and her recent Bat-Mitzvah at the City Shul. As her "adoptive" parents, we felt a tremendous sense of pride in her accomplishments. Batel has joined us for dinners with our friends, Kabbalat Shabbats, Passover Seders, and even a trip to Montreal. In addition, Stan and I have become a part of a large, more exclusive community of Shinshin host families - 75 in total.

My one regret is that our youngest son, Levi, who was supposed to be moving back home after completing his first year at the University of Toronto, has not been around to truly benefit from Batel's presence. Levi was selected to go to Taiwan as a Canadian "Shinshin", billet with a family and teach English to Taiwanese children. We could not deny him that experience.

All in all, hosting Batel has enriched our lives. We have learned so much from her and I truly hope she can say the same about us. I know that Batel desperately misses her family but I'd like to think that her Canadian family has helped to fill the void and alleviate her homesickness. Batel will forever be our adopted daughter. We plan on staying in connected throughout her life. I can't wait to see her get married, meet her children and watch her attain her lofty goals. As an Ethiopian-Israeli, she has many barriers to overcome, but with her feistiness, determination, grit and intelligence, I have no doubt that she will make a difference in the world someday.

August 30th will be a sad day for us. Batel flies back to Israel to go into the Army. I hope it will not be too long before we visit her on her home turf, along with the other Shinshinim that we have welcomed into our family over the past number of years. It is because of these exceptional young Israelis that we have an even stronger connection to Israel.

If you are considering hosting a Shinshin and welcoming them into your home and into your hearts, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. It would be my pleasure to share my experiences.

Thu, 23 May 2024 15 Iyar 5784