PARTICIPANTS IN the one-year voluntary service program (‘shnat sherut’) attend a ceremony at the President’s Residence yesterday.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In local parlance, they’re known as “shinshinim” – a sort of acronym for high school graduates who voluntarily defer their military service for a year in order to do community service.
Known in Hebrew as “shnat sherut” – a one-year voluntary service program – the first letter of each word, Shin, becomes the acronym shin-shin, the plural of which is shinshinim.
The whole concept of the volunteer year extends beyond Israel.
Members of Zionist youth groups in the Diaspora spend a gap year volunteering in communities in their home countries or come to Israel to volunteer for a year. Many opt to stay permanently.
On Thursday, some 200 Israeli shinshinim congregated at the President’s Residence to celebrate the end of their year of service before presenting themselves at IDF recruitment bases. They were distinguished by their uniforms, T-shirts or regular shirts in shades of marine blue, navy blue, forest green, canary yellow, turquoise and beige. All had large logos on the back signifying an organization, movement or commune.
The volunteers came from a broad spectrum of society, and the diversity was also present in each commune where the idea was to get to know, understand and appreciate the other.
In addition to which, all of them were exposed to values, lifestyles, cultures and problems that they had not encountered at home.
They were involved in immigrant absorption, informal education, helping youth at risk and working with youngsters from peripheral areas. Participants stated in a video and in person that the experience had changed them in a very positive manner, making them more independent, teaching them to think of others before they thought of themselves, learning to live in a group, preparing them through their communal existence for life in the army and giving them a sense of family that they anticipated would last a lifetime.
Baleinesh Lakaw from the Yahad group of the Ma’asaeh (Deed) organization and graduate of Midreshet Amalia said she had learned what it means to really do good for others without any expectation of or desire for a reward. It was simply doing good for the sake of doing good. She admitted that when she became a volunteer, it was not really out of altruistic motives.
A member of the Ethiopian community, she wanted to talk about herself, about the place from which she came, and why she was in Israel...
but instead she had learned about everyone else, and it was quite an education, something for which she always be grateful, she said.
Chen Hachmi, who represented the sons and daughters of the moshavim, said his year of service had made him a better person. In his own eyes, he had matured and he had learned the importance of giving of oneself. He considered the volunteer year to be one of the more important Israeli enterprises providing a right of passage from youth to adulthood.
President Reuven Rivlin, in thanking the volunteers for their service, warned them that as difficult as things may have been over the past year, they would confront even greater challenges in the army, but praised their decision to voluntarily give a year of their lives before embarking on mandatory service.
Whereas students in the West go straight from high school to college or university, here, noted Rivlin, they have to either go into the IDF or civilian national service. This is one of the reasons that those who choose to enroll in the volunteer year are so appreciated, he said. In 20 years, he told them, their generation would be among the leaders of the nation.
This past year had been a good internship for that eventuality in that the volunteers had learned to know people outside of their own communities and had opened doors to so much that had previously been unknown to them.
Such knowledge is essential for true leadership, said Rivlin. “This was a year in which you opened your minds and your hearts.”
Concerned at the number of institutions that are closing down for lack of funding, Rivlin said the volunteer year was too important to be allowed to become extinct, and urged the government to make more funds available.
The one-year voluntary service program is under the joint supervision of the Defense and Education ministries.