Valley of the Sun JCC Chief Operating Officer Kim Subrin has worked with the Jewish Agency for Israel since 2001, assisting with its shlichim program that brings young Israeli emissaries to the U.S. But in the 18 years that she’s collaborated on the project, Subrin never hosted shlichim herself — until last month, when Subrin welcomed two visiting Israelis into her home. Now the guests are like family.
“It’s been a dream. I’ve watched all these other families do it and I wanted to be a host,” said Subrin. “I’ve always had a big connection to all the shlichim who’ve come, and I usually take them out for a weekend or something like that, but this year I finally got the opportunity to host and it’s been great.”
Raz Bidkar, 21, and Aviv Ben Sira, 24, this year’s Jewish Agency shlichim, are living with Subrin for their full summer tenure. Both started working as counselors at Shemesh Summer Camp as soon as they arrived.
Bidkar and Ben Sira went through a rigorous process to be chosen as shlichim. The Jewish Agency hand-picks Israeli youth leaders with experience in the army or national service. Once they were selected from a crowded field of applicants, Bidkar and Ben Sira had extensive interviews with Subrin and VOSJCC Director of Camping Services Jessica Pineda. Ben Sira, who’s from Kibbutz Afikim in the north of Israel, did his interview with Subrin via video from New Zealand during an around-the-world trip. In Bidkar’s case, he completed his IDF service just a month before arriving in the U.S.
Now Ben Sira is a counselor at Shemesh Camp’s Ruach on the Go program, which allows campers and counselors to travel off-site to places like Disneyland, Catalina Island and California Adventure. Bidkar is a cooking specialist at Shemesh, allowing him to use the skills he learned from his mother, a professional baker in Bet Shemesh, and from his own experience working in Bet Shemesh restaurants. Bidkar has been cooking traditional Israeli and Middle Eastern dishes, such as falafel and hummus, for campers and teaching them how to make the dishes themselves.
Subrin is grateful to have the two in her home, calling herself their American “mom.” Her only regret is that fewer people are willing to be host families these days. Fewer host families available means fewer shlichim bringing Israeli culture to America.
“It didn’t used to be that way, but for some reason people are now skittish about opening their homes,” Subrin said. “It’s important for me that people understand what a huge benefit it has been for my kids.”
Though at first her two children were slightly nervous about having strangers in their house, it didn’t take long for them to become attached to their Israeli guests. Now the only anxious conversations are about how they’ll all keep in contact after the summer ends.
Neither Ben Sira nor Bidkar had never been to the U.S. before this summer, and while they’re enjoying their stay in Arizona, they are still acclimating to the differences in customs and culture. It’s helped that Subrin has taken her role as host seriously.
“We explored new horizons when we got here, in my opinion,” said Bidkar. “The culture is so different that I’m very pleased to learn about it, and also teach about my culture. I think it’s important to let everyone know that most people will not get any chance of meeting a new culture if they don’t travel or don’t participate in the camp, because they’re limiting themselves to their own horizons.”
Ben Sira also has praise for the program.
“I think it’s really beautiful. I can see the best parts of America with you and you can see the best parts of Israel with me,” he said. “At the JCC, there are a lot of campers and counselors who aren’t Jewish that now know a lot more about Israel because of me.” JN