Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager
Bnai Jeshurun Synagogue
Central Queens Y
Hannah Senesh Community Day School
The Israeli-American Council (IAC) builds an engaged and united Israeli-American community that strengthens the Israeli and Jewish identity of our next generations, the American Jewish community, and the bond between the peoples of the United States and the State of Israel.
Shishi Israeli was designed as an Israeli cultural kabbalat Shabbat inspired experience to engage unaffiliated Jews into Jewish life. The program focuses heavily on Jewish food, family, music, art, and dance to build Jewish engagement, identity, and community and to pass on Jewish inspiration and wisdom to participants. Originally, this was designed to unite the Israeli-American community who, as a community, were witnessing very high levels of assimilation and whose children subsequently were losing their Jewish identities. Shishi Israeli offered a platform to unite this community in a fun and familiar way that was accessible to Jews no matter their observance or knowledge level. As the Israeli-American community established itself and evolved to, today, seeing itself as Jewish-Americans seeking to enter mainstream American-Jewish life, the Shishi Israeli program has also evolved to embrace Jewish-Americans; becomeing an important vehicle to not only engage Israeli and Jewish Americans as one community, but also to inspire and strengthen Jewish-Americans seeking a vibrant cultural Shabbat experience. Example: In 2016 1,414 community members of the Upper West Side participated in 5 Shishi Israeli events. 42% of participants were Jewish-American, the first time Jewish-Americans comprised over 40% of Shishi Israeli participants.
Shishi Israeli focuses on core Jewish values: Cultural Jewish identity, healthy families, preserving Jewish traditions, being an involved member of the Jewish people. The Shishi Israeli platform provides low barrier access for participants. Through music, food, fun, family and friendship, Shishi Israeli empowers participants to be engaged in Jewish life, in Jewish community, and to learn Jewish wisdom through fun and inspiring means: food, music, dance, Shabbat conversation, etc. Shishi Israeli is accessible to all Jews and inspires our community to be curious about, and involved in, Jewish life.
For Israeli-Americans, Shishi Israeli allows them the ability to engage in a traditional Israeli cultural Shabbat experience that is not often present in America but is central to Israeli life. This has been a critical tool in uniting the Israeli-American community and engaging them in Jewish life in America. For American Jews, Shishi Israeli provides an outlet to connect with Hebrew, Jews of diverse backgrounds, Jewish food, culture, and art in an experience that is not the traditional American Shabbat experience, that is inspiring, empowering, and celebrates cultural Judaism and pride in Jewish identity. For both of these communities, particularly for those that had defined themselves as unaffiliated, Shishi Israeli has enriched the Jewish experience and provided a new pathway for Jews to connect with one another and with Jewish traditions and wisdom. Testimonials are attached. In addition, through our partnerships with American Jewish institutions, Shishi Israeli is providing a growing platform to introduce unaffiliated to Jews to mainstream Jewish institutions, creating new opportunities and bridges for engagement.
At the core of the success of Shishi Israeli is the ability to unite Jews of all backgrounds and knowledge levels through points of Jewish life that are familiar to anyone: friendship, family, art, food, music, and dance. In our secular lives, these are common things. What we found, though, were these were not always considered part of Jewish life by members of our community, particularly the unaffiliated. Shishi Israeli allowed us to present these opportunities in a very Jewish and welcoming way. Our participants joined together and for many of them it was the first Jewish experience they had participated in in many years. Through connecting to Jewish tradition and wisdom through food, dance, music, art, family, community, and friendship; our participants became inspired, enriched, and connected to Jewish life. Our participants continue to return to Shishi Israeli programing bringing more friends and family to every event. As Shishi Israeli continues to grow and partner with other Jewish organizations, we are enriching our Jewish community, engaging more and more Jews in Jewish life, and creating a vibrant Jewish future for our communities.
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