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Israeli teens will spend a year in Indianapolis for cultural exchange program

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Two Israeli emissaries will call Indianapolis home for the next year as part of a program aimed at educating people about Israel and Israeli culture.

The two are what’s called Shinshiniots. It’s an interesting job they have, considering they are trying to connect cultures in the middle of a pandemic.

These two 18-year-olds are a long way from home. And for a year, they will be able to stand in as Hoosiers.

“I am Evan Elahainey Perez and I’m from Haifa. I’m Maya Hirshberg and I live in Jerusalem.”

They are participating in the Jewish Agency’s young emissary program. They are two out of a select group of young adults who will spend this year abroad educating the local community about Israel and Israeli culture.

The Jewish Community Center will serve as the headquarters of their work.

“I think for both of us, it was a dream for a very long time and we were really passionate about a connection between Jewish people and Israel and the diaspora,” Perez said.

The two are uniquely equipped to help create connections. Although they are both from Israel, they come from what could be considered opposite sides of the religion.

“My family is Reformed,” Hirshberg said.

“And my family is Orthodox,” Perez said.

However the elements of the faith — like love, acceptance and belonging– can bridge religions and culture.

“The more you know about something, the more connected you feel. Knowledge is power and the more you know, the better you can be,” said Hirshberg.

The interview process to be an Israeli emissary took them about four years. And while they’d typically meet in groups, they are also adapting to the challenges of social distancing.

“We are always trying to find resources to make virtual programming interesting and fun and engaging,” Hirshberg explained.

As part of their goal to educate, they said people often don’t realize just how modern Israel is. They said some people have asked if they get around by car and if they have a working government. Overall they said they are blessed to be able to provide some insight.