Many Jewish communities worldwide know Shin-shinim ("Shnat-sherut" – Service Year) emissaries as young, dedicated Jewish Agency shlichim who work tirelessly to bring Israel to life abroad. Working within Israel, in parallel, are thousands of other volunteers who have dedicated their time to giving back to local communities.
Each year 5,000 senior high school students send out applications, requesting that the government defer their army service (and therefore their adult lives) for a year, in order to take part in the program.
The 2,000-2,500 successful candidates volunteer all around the country in all sorts of communal institutions and programs with the aim to raise their sense of social responsibility, strengthen their leadership skills, and to get to know other populations within Israel's societal mosaic.
Amir Tzur and Alon Werman are two such Shin-shinim.
"I decided to volunteer because this country gave me so much in my 18 years, and now that I am an adult, it is time to carry my weight as a citizen," says Tzur.
Alon and Amir, who both grew up on kibbutzim in the North of Israel are volunteering at The Jewish Agency Nitzana Educational Eco-Village just a few kilometers from the Egyptian border. Alon and Amir underwent an intense two month training period on the secrets of the desert before they began guiding groups themselves.
Their work encompasses leading school children, teenagers, and families; Israelis, Masa Israel Journey participants, and tourists alike; sharing this unique part of Israel with them. They feel their service is educational, teaching about nature and eco-friendly lifestyles, about recycling and respect. They also teach their groups what it means to be environmentally conscious and why that is important.
"I feel that I am making a change in people," says Amir. "Seeing a change in even one person is an incredible feeling. If I can influence even one person to not litter, or to recycle their plastic bottles when they leave here, then I have made a change for the better of this country."
Amir adds, "Every night when I go to sleep, I think that today here at Nitzana, as a Shin-shin, I did things that were not just for myself. I have started to really think not just about my needs, but about the needs of others."