Hila Farber, Adena Hammer and Pnina Shahar decided they would rather fulfill their national service as student ambassadors than as soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces. Many people in the suburban Boynton Beach Jewish community are delighted they made that choice.
“They are fantastic with the kids, they give 150 percent and they’re on time every day. There’s just not enough you can say about them,” said Shari Waknin, director of children, family and camping programs at the Ross Jewish Community on Jog Road in west Boynton Beach.
Every young person in Israel is required to perform at least one year of national service, or Sheirut Leumi, The most familiar form of national service is to join the military.
The “Sheirut Girls,” as they have come to be known here, teach Israeli culture and Hebrew at Ben Gamla Charter School at Temple Torah. Then they cross the parking lot a few hundred yards to the Ross JCC, where they work with children in the JCC after-school program.
They also put together weekend and holiday events for children at Chabad Lubavitch of Greater Boynton Beach. They share a two-bedroom apartment and a car provided for them.
For families in this area, they are the face of Israel, ambassadors, teachers, role models.
“The kids asked us if we ride on camels. They want to know if you can buy iPhones in Israel,” said Shahar. “I think they understand now that we don’t live in a village and we have real homes.”
“Now they are showing us books about Israel and music, they are picking up Hebrew very fast,” said Hammer. “They really get into it. We are very lucky. We can see our results in seconds.”
About 1,000 young women started the application process. Of those, 600 underwent a months-long interview process that includes intense all-day psychological assessments.
They are tested on history and geography, Hebrew and in English. In the end, about 120 get assignments.
Farber and Hammer are 20 and Shahar is 19. They never met before they were assigned to work together. They share a small living space and are together all their waking hours. This should be a formula for nuclear-size emotional meltdowns.
Yes, they fight, but since they paid attention in their conflict-resolution classes, they work things out.
Also, they are usually too busy to brood.
As Purim approached, Hammer had a bout of homesickness and called her mother. In Israel, Purim is a combination of Halloween and Mardi Gras celebrated for a week by everyone, religious or otherwise.
“We were all nervous and sad not to be home,” said Hammer.
“So we decided to make the people here feel like they were in Israel,” said Farber. The three Sheirut Girls organized three Purim parties, then went from door to door, singing Purim songs and dancing, in a neighborhood near the Chabad off El Clair Ranch Road. They wanted to give the neighbors the full Israeli Purim experience.
“Afterward, we were really tired and we went to bed,” said Hammer. “When I woke up I had a text message from one of the mothers. She said, ‘It was the best thing that ever happened when you came here.’ That makes me want to do more for them.”
Next year, a new team of “Sheirut Girls” will arrive, said JCC head Jeff Trinz, who has requested young women from the Tzahar region, the Israeli partner region of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.
In August, this first group of “Sheirut Girls” are heading back to Israel. They don’t even want to talk about leaving because they know they will cry.
“All the people around us are our family here and we’re not going to see them ever again,” said Farber. “So we told all of them they are supposed to come to our weddings.”