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An Interview with Hebrew University's New Community Ambassadors Shai and Sigal

Oct 15, 2016

I had the opportunity to chat with a young dynamic couple  Sigal Kleynerman, age 26,  and Shai Josepov, age 29, who have recently moved here and are very eager and excited about taking on the role of 

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Community Ambassadors.


Sigal and Shai are upbeat  and very easy to talk to, and both speak English fluently, in addition to Hebrew of course (Sigal also speaks Russian). They  said they are spending some time getting to know the lay of the land here and meeting members of our Jewish community.


We talked about their goals for their first year here.



"We are here to connect the Hebrew University with the local community and continue the relationship between the two in a new and innovative way. We are here to connect with everyone from the community, regardless of age group, with special emphasis on young adults who are our piers,  as well as university and high school students " Sigal says


"We're looking to mingle and  meet people and integrate into the community. We want to  become a part of  it, and we also want to host people in our home," Shai adds.


"We are going to work from our apartment, where our new home office is located", Shai explains, which makes things convenient for them. They have already set up shop here


Even before we had spoken, the couple had already attended a Shabbat service at Shaarey Zedek synagogue , had met people at the Rady JCC and told me that they would be attending synagogue for Erev Rosh Hashana at Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Synagogue. The two also noted that they would also like to be involved "in the planning and execution of different holiday and special events, such as the Yom Hazikaron service that takes place yearly, in addition, of course, to Yom Haatzmaut." 


Shai and Sigal  appear to be naturals in their newfound role. The newlywed couple ( who married this past summer) both studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem , and met while working at the Rothberg International School as social coordinators for its preparatory programs and for the special and summer courses.The two have also worked in two major Israeli ministries: Aliyah & Absorption, and Foreign Affairs.


“We feel a real connection to The Hebrew University,” says Sigal,  who has a BA in English literature and political science and recently completed her Master’s degree in management of nonprofit and community organizations. “It’s been a big part of our lives. It was there that we met, and where we developed as adults and citizens. So it’s great for us to be able to promote The Hebrew University in Winnipeg.”


While working for the Rothberg School of  the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Shai and Sigal met several students contacts from Winnipeg, including a student who attended the Rothberg School's "Dance Jerusalem" program and another who went on the Mishpatim  program, which gives law students from the University of  Manitoba a chance to study the Israeli legal system for a number of weeks.


"We are looking forward to meeting many more people," said Shai,  who has a BA in political science and international relations, and recently completed his MA in conflict management and resolution.


“We want the people of Winnipeg to feel and experience The Hebrew University as personally as they can. We want to show them the impact of its research, not just in Israel but globally,” he added.



As part of their work here, the couple is planning to host a number of  smaller events aimed at engaging people in the community in small groups and one on one in ways that raise awareness about Hebrew University. "For example, we' like to host a 'cooking  and culture' class at our home, where we  can make shakshuka or hummus, or whatever people are interested in trying. "We could also make a great number of Israeli ethnic dishes," Sigal chimes in.


"We'd also like to have people over for Shabbat dinners in our home, as it will be a nice way to meet people and get to know each other. This will give us a chance to talk to people in small groups about the Hebrew University and its research,  or about what it 's like to be a university student in Jerusalem, how special a place Jerusalem is, or other interesting aspects of life in Israel, " Shai says with enthusiasm.  " People who have lived in Jerusalem, even during periods of conflict, know that the perception you have from afar is different than when you live there," Sigal says. " What sticks with people who have lived in  Jerusalem is it's unique combination of modernity and its ancient spirit," Shai adds.



Another possibility that the couple spoke about in our conversation as a way to engage younger adults in the community is to have an event at a bar or a club or coffee shop or other comfortable place and bring in a Hebrew U professor to speak about their area  of research or interest, or to have a local speaker attend and speak on a topic relating to Israel . "We have a number of ideas that we are working on," Sigal says.


"We would also like to connect with  Hebrew U alumni in the city," Sigal  notes, along with visiting and working within the city’s Jewish and Hebrew-language elementary and high schools. 




Shai served as a combat medic in the IDF between 2006-2009, while also serving as a combat medic in  a reserves unit, following his mandatory service. As part of his service, Shai also served during Israel's summer war with Hamas in 2014, and no doubt  members of the community would find it very interesting to hear about his experiences. He also served in the IDF during the Second Lebanon War and also during another war with Hamas in Gaza, which took place between December 2008 to January 2009.  As a medic during the wars in Gaza, he treated both injured Israeli soldiers as well as Gazan Palestinian civilians, who were caught in the cross fire.  As he explained, Israeli medics in the field are to act according to the code of ethical conduct which means treating not only  Israeli soldiers and civilians, but also any Palestinian civilians who were caught in the line of fire.   “The powerful experienced I’ve been through while serving as a combat medic, were part of the reason why I chose to study what I did” says Shai, while adding that he will be happy to talk with members of the community about his service and all the political aspects bound to it.


Sigal is not only a dancer but a talented singer who has  performed in the Karmiel city choir. Sigal's parents immigrated to Israel from the  former Soviet Union in 1990 and live in Karmiel (Winnipeg's Chai Folk Ensemble took part  in the Karmiel Dance  Festival in July 2014) which has about 60,000 people in it. Sigal toured with the Karmiel choir to France where they performed at a number of venues for the French Jewish community. "My solo was Jerusalem of Gold," Sigal says, and adds that she will be happy to sing to sing this and other Hebrew songs at events in the Jewish community here. Sigal also has sung with a classical ensemble."Shai plays guitar and we performed together at the Rothberg School a number of times,"she said. To see a you tube video of Sigal and Shai performing go to 

  (Although it is not their focus here, when I asked f they would be willing to perform here, they said they would be pleased to if there was interest) .  


In 1990, Sigal was also the first Sabre baby to be  born a new immigrant couple in Karmiel , during the time of the great Aliyah from the former Soviet Union. 
Sigal’s connection to the world of Non-profit organizations began while serving in ‘Sherut Leumi’ (alternative voluntary National service), where she served as counselor in the ‘Center for disabled’ in the city of Safed.  "My experience there helping disabled people made me understand how important the role of  non-profit organizations is in our society and how they can impact peoples lives for the better,"  she notes


Shai grew up in Ma'alot-Tarshiha, a mixed Arab-Jewish city of 25, 000 people some 20 kilometres east of  Nahariya. When I asked him about the relations in the city between Jews and Arabs, he said that "they are not perfect, but overall they are good. "  Ma'alot was established in 1963 through a municipal merger of the Arab town of Tarshiha and the Jewish town of Ma'alot, which Shai describes as being "on two different sides of the same road."  Shai said that a lot of  the Jews living in Ma'alot go to the market in Tarshiha and he noted that that there is now increased economic activity in Tarshiha.  


As we were speaking I remembered that in 1974, an elementary school in Ma'alot was attacked by terrorists of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine in what became known as the Ma'alot massacre. Twenty-two teenagers and three teachers on a class trip were murdered in the attack. They had been sleeping on the floor inside the building.


Shai explained that his mother, who is of Romanian descent  "was supposed to have gone on that school trip the day when the attackers attacked and would have been," but luckily she hadn't.  


Both Sigal and Shai say they are excited to speak to people about the Hebrew University and about their life in Israel, and look forward to "connecting to the community." Both are pleased to be in Winnipeg since, as Shai says,“We know the relationship goes between The Hebrew University and Winnipeg goes back to  1948 and we know the impact that this city has had on the University and its students.”



"We're  here to build on and strengthen that relationship," Sigal notes


Shai and Sigal are also looking forward to getting to know  our city and to visit its special places such as the Canadian museum for Human Rights, which the Jewish community has strongly supported.


Both Sigal and Shai want community members to know that if  there’s an event you’d think they would enjoy, please invite them or let them know about it. If you’d like to go for coffee  with them or to have them over for  Friday-night dinner, they would love to come and they are really looking forward to welcoming community members into their home. 


“This is a great new experience for us and we are excited to become a part of your community. We would gladly welcome any help and advice you have for us.”


In the short time they have been here, Shai and Sigal have already begun reaching out to  people  through social media and hope you will follow them and their journey in Winnipeg on  the CFHU Winnipeg Chapter Facebook page


Feel free to message them at skley

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