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How do you measure a year? In seconds? Months? Maybe moments and memories?

And how do you measure 3 years? I measured my last 3 years by anticipation. The anticipation to make a dream come true. To be a shinshinit outside of Israel. To live and act in a Jewish community abroad. To feel it, learn from the people and the community.

It all started when I was at a Jewish summer camp in Canada, three years ago. There, for the first time I was exposed to Jews who live outside of Israel. I saw their way of living, their love for Israel and in some ways I felt a little at home. I was excited to see Israeli flags, hearing words in Hebrew in their daily life at camp, and sing “Hatikva,” the Israeli national anthem, with them for the first time abroad and I felt connected to it more than ever. I was amazed to find that they discussed issues dealing with Israel and I heard some of their opinions about Israel and the things that are going on there even if they were different than mine.  At the camp there were two shinshiniot, two Israeli teens who had just finished high school. I asked them about what they did there, how they got accepted into the program, and what it would take to apply for this year-long program.

When I left the camp to Toronto, I was hosted by a Jewish family and the first evening they told me they were going to Shiva. It took me a while to understand what they meant when they said shiva in Hebrew. I was shocked. It did not occur to me that Jewish people outside of Israel lived a Jewish life. I saw how they did not take their Jewish lifestyle for granted because they lived in a non-jewish environment. I loved it and wanted to know more. When I came back to Israel I declared that I would be a shinshinit abroad Israel.

Less than a year later, I flew in a delegation with my youth movement to Bulgaria to meet the Bulgarian chapter of my youth movement. We did activities there, Hebrew lessons, organized the Passover seder, and learned about the Jewish community. I was amazed to find out that not all the youth in the Bulgarian group were Jews but they still went to a Jewish youth group because of the values and the people.

In the Hebrew lessons I was excited to see a map of Israel, the lyrics for Hatikva, and words in Hebrew on the board. We even met kids who wore a kippa and who were Hebrew speakers. It was kind of like home in a foreign place. During that week it was interesting to speak with the people and have more experiences of what a Jewish lifestyle looks like away from Israel. During my stay there I had a thought: if that is what a shinshin does in their shnat sherut, their year of service, abroad from Israel, I want to do it too! I want to feel the satisfaction I felt every day when I did something for and with the Jewish community in Bulgaria for a whole year.

January twenty-fourth: I receive an e-mail from the Jewish Agency for Israel that says I have an interview for St. Louis. Just by reading the headline I got so excited in a way I couldn’t put into words. I knew it was the right place for me.

January thirty-first: I get a phone call in which I am told I am going to be in St. Louis next year!! I had tears of joy. It was so surreal for me that it would happen. I had waited all day long for someone to call me and say “Hey Shaked, it was a joke, you’re not really going to be in St. Louis”. It took me a while to understand that it was really happening.

My name is Shaked Birenboim, I am 18 years old from kibbutz Mishmar Haemek and I am your Shinshinit. I am honored to be here and thank you for the opportunity to make my dream come true.