Meet Laya, whose family has opened their home to Heschel shinshinim. Discover her unique perspective on the special bond formed between these Israeli teenage ambassadors and her children, and why she believes in the importance of fostering connections between the Jewish community in Toronto and Israel.

Hi, my name is Laya, my family has been very fortunate to have hosted a Heschel shinshin in our home twice! The very first time was in the spring of 2015 when my children were in JK, gr 3 & gr 6. And currently, we are hosting our awesome shinshin Yahli. With Yahli it has been yet another wonderful meaningful experience for all of us and especially for my daughter who is in gr 8 at Heschel (she was in JK the first time we hosted).

I wanted to share a little bit about being a host family. First I have to say, one of the most obvious outcome each year of the shinshin program are the teens who are chosen in Israel to be sent here as Ambassadors. I have had the pleasure of getting to know many shinshinim over the years and it is quite apparent that these teens are dedicated and want to share their love of Israel with us here in Toronto. That alone is priceless and it is amazing that UJA has this program for the Jewish people in the GTA.

Being a host family with a shinshin that goes to school with your child is something so incredibly unique! Your child is fortunate to have an automatic connection just from their day to day interaction at school and home. The shinshin knows your child’s teachers and the kids in their class and other grades. It truly is so incredibly special for them to share “Heschel” in that way. Also, a bonus, all the other students think it is pretty awesome when their friend has one of the Heschel shinshins as their “big” brother or sister living at their house. If you host a shinshin and have never had a teenager in your home yet (like it was for us in 2015) it is excellent training of what life is like with a teenager in the house! Yoni (from 9 years ago) will always be our first teen before my own kids become teens. We had a great time hosting him and we are still in touch, checking in on whats app regularly. We even had dinner with him and his parents when we went to Israel a few years after Yoni lived with us. It is so special to have that relationship after the hosting is through.

Needless to say, with all that is going on in Israel since 10/7 there is such an important place for this program for us in the diaspora. We are just as lucky to be a part of their world outside Israel as they are lucky to be a part of our Jewish community. It means so much to them to feel the love and support we give them when they are in Toronto at various institutions for the year. They always leave here knowing that The Toronto Jewish community (and the Heschel community) holds Israel and its people close to our hearts.

Laya, Jeff, Evan, Aaron & Amy Weissberger

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