Filed under: community, Community Garden, Food, friendship, Home, Immersion, Israel, Israel & Israelis, Living abroad, Uncategorized | No Comments »
I’m not going to lie and say that I felt comfortable and at home in Gedera as soon as I arrived. My first few days were filled with worries about the new place and I began to wonder how I was going to spend nine and a half months here. As I explored this new and different little town, I began to discover places that made Gedera feel like my home. This post is dedicated to a few of those places.
1. Gedera Community Garden
The Gedera Community Garden is conveniently located about a minute from our house in Gedera. I admit that I do not volunteer in the garden as often as others in the group, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the supply of kale they have been growing in the past few months (they really don’t eat a lot of leafy greens in Israel). I have also loved watching all the projects develop in the past seven months. It is truly a beautiful place.
2. Gedera Fields
Photo Courtesy of Dana Talmi
I was first introduced to these fields when we had our first group run when we were training for the Tel Aviv Marathon fundraiser. I really wish I had found this place earlier because it is beautiful (and it encourages me to get up and go for the occasional run).
3. Sculpture Garden
I was introduced to the sculpture garden one of our first weeks in Gedera. I didn’t really pay attention to the sculptures the first time I was there but when I returned a few weeks later I realized that it is a truly strange (also interesting and incredibly creative) place. The artist has refused to sell his sculptures so they are in the garden for everyone’s viewing pleasure.
4. Bilu Garden
Photos Courtesy of Erica Mitchell
The Bilu Garden is a beautiful place for a picnic. We have turned some otherwise quiet weekends in Gedera into bonding experiences for all.
5. Derech Ha Hummus
If you didn’t know that there was anything to eat in Israel besides falafel and Shwarma, this place is for you. In the past seven months we have significantly contributed to keeping Gilad, the owner, in business (today the restaurant is actually celebrating its 1-year anniversary since its opening). This place is definitely a must try. You won’t regret it!
6. Bereshit Restaurant
Walk down the alleyway, past the red tractor, and you will arrive at a seemingly random chicken coup and some outdoor seating. The outdoor seating belongs to Bereshit, one of the best restaurants in Gedera. This is a great place to go for a calm and delicious sit-down meal. It is a little bit pricey so it might be best to wait for when your parents visit…
7. The Bakery
At the local bakery, you can buy two (or sometimes three) borekas for under a dollar. But these delicious, affordable delights are not all the bakery has to offer. It is also the place to go for bread and sweet pastries and it has one of the best candy selections in town!
8. Toov Taam (The Spice Store)
I was initially drawn to this place because I heard they had real coffee beans and I have yet to get used to instant coffee. When I discovered that there was also an excellent selection of bulk grains, dried fruit, and spices, I fell in love. They also sell bakers’ chocolate (which is apparently hard to find in Israel).
9. The Crafts Store
I am a girl that loves a project (or sometimes several) and I was lacking one until I found this place. This store has supplies for all your crafting needs. There is also a selection of jewelry made by the employees for those of you with fewer crafting abilities.
10. Teva Gedera
If seitan and flax seed oil are regular items on your shopping list and/or you only shop with a reusable bag, Teva Gedera might be the place for you. While this place is no Tel Aviv health food store it does help soothe hippy homesickness.
Filed under: Arab-Israeli, community, Diversity, Empowerment, Impact, Initiative, Israel, Living abroad, Social Change | No Comments »
Before coming to Israel, I did not like to engage on Israel issues. I never felt connected to the land, nor did I feel a connection to the people. Sure, I knew most Israelis were Jewish, but they were not necessarily a part of my own Jewish identity and Jewish community in the US. The mainstream media and Jewish community seemed to make me choose to be “with” Israel or “against” Israel, and truthfully, I didn’t know anything about the Conflict (or Israel for that matter) other than the stories of suicide bus bombings and the Kotel.
Since coming to Israel, I’ve learned an incredible amount about Ethiopian Israelis, Druze Israelis, migrants and refugees, the climate, the food, the culture, the government, and the Jewish religion. Only now, after gaining some background on Israel, it is necessary to also discuss the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Last week, we spent the day traveling in the West Bank and spoke with four Palestinian activists, who talked about their experiences in grassroots social change. Throughout the last few weeks, we have been looking in depth at the Conflict here, which has proven to be an increasingly complicated situation.
During our day trip, we spoke with a man who works on water issues, helping to partner Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian communities with the shared goal of working on resource management. He showed us where the separation barrier would have been built in Battir and its effect on the water system. We also met with a man who works for the UN on Palestinian/Israeli issues. He guided us through a discussion of a map illustrating land usage of the West Bank, of which 60% is controlled by Israel.
- We looked at a map more complete than this one. The West Bank is fragmented into Areas A, B, & C.
What I was most surprised about was the breakdown of the land and stubbornness on both sides in relation to the land. We visited the south Hebron Hills to look at a Bedouin village with one legal building and a number of tents. Literally next to the village was an Israeli settlement with all the amenities of modern living. The two groups do not communicate. We saw a kindergarten that serves this village and another village nearby consisting of members of the same Bedouin family who live in buildings rather than tents because they submitted a master plan for the community to the Israeli government.
Many Bedouin villages are on Area C land (Israeli-controlled), which means that they must receive approval before building. The process is long and the Israeli government often rejects requests. The Israelis regularly demolish illegally built homes. For example, the Israeli government demolished an attachment to the one legal building in the village we saw because the village had not received approval to build it. We saw another Bedouin village in Area C, located on land that the army has designated to be a fire zone. When the military uses the land, the residents are not allowed on the area, mostly affecting grazing animals. The military does not use the land frequently, and this strip of land was utilized maybe 3-5 times since 2003, yet it is still controlled by Israel.
After this, we drove back north to meet with two Palestinian women who also work on grassroots change. One woman is a student at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, studying Political Science. Though she received a full scholarship to a university in Germany, during her first year there, she experienced discrimination and decided to return to the West Bank to finish her studies. She is involved with Seeds of Peace, an international summer camp that brings together American, Israeli, and Palestinian children to open dialogue between the groups. Most, if not all, of the children who attend the camp have never spoken with members of the other groups. The group’s philosophy supports creating dialogue and breaking down stereotypes of the Other in order to create social change. Many Palestinians feel that this form of normalization is wrong, so the organization is somewhat controversial.
The other woman we met runs the Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans cooperative. She spoke about her experience as a Christian Palestinian and how she felt that outsiders try to create a division between Palestinian groups – Muslim, Christian, and Bedouin. Her organization helps to create opportunities for local artists, and as a free-trade organization, the profit from sales go back to the artists who can make a livelihood from their work.
The day brought up a lot of thoughts for me. It seemed to me that most of the speakers were pessimistic about macro change, but very positive about micro change. One did not see a solution at the macro level, whereas the others tended to support a two-state solution. It was encouraging to see how a few people were engaged in work at the grassroots level. At the same time, I recognize that we spoke with only four people and that there are many more people, both Israeli and Palestinian, who hold completely different views on what the solution should be. Even amongst the four speakers, they had varying views on how they want the Conflict solved.
At the end of the day, upon our return to Jerusalem and then Gedera, I thought about how easy it is to forget about the Conflict. We live in an almost completely Jewish community. We have our own lives and problems and social issues to deal with in Gedera. The only time most people I’ve spoken to in Gedera really think about the Conflict is when there are rockets coming from Gaza. Even so, I’ve spoken with a few social justice activists, my shabab, my host family, and friends, and I am hopeful that there will eventually be a solution and that great minds are working on the issue both at macro and micro levels.
Filed under: Arab-Israeli, community, Diversity, Empowerment, Food, friendship, Hiking, Israel & Israelis, Jewish holiday, Living abroad, stereotypes, Uncategorized | No Comments »
A lot has happened in the past months. But no part of the program has felt quite as high spirited as the holiday season here in Israel. It’s been a great stretch of fun since Purim. I think my highlight, however, was the Pesach break. It wasn’t just vacation and a full halt to learning. I had the chance to learn and explore on my own—outside of Yahel.
Petra’s air is arid and often mixed with a light waft of horse poop. Summer is moving in now. There was a dim hum of a mixture of languages down near the main attractions—tourists from everywhere, scrambling around, eager to test their bargaining abilities with local shop owners. Shwarma was in restaurant windows, Bedouin men walking in their jalabiyyas, and a wide variety of kefiyehs visible at every turn; red ones, black ones, green and blue. I even heard Hebrew being spoken in the streets—a relief to see that Israelis can travel without too much concern in at least one other place in the Middle East.
I was lucky enough to have visited this historic city two and a half years before. During my travels, I met some local Bedouin guys my age who became my friends. On this particular visit, I was able to link back up with them, and this time, they really helped me and my travel companion/roommate (Dave Korolnek) with everything. They sent a car to the border to pick us up, they got us tickets to tour a candle-lit Petra, we ate “mansaf” style lunch at their families’ house, we saw one of Ala’adin’s castles from the Crusader period, and we had an amazing barbeque in the desert of Little Petra.
Being with these friends of mine was a lot like being in Gedera in our first weeks of the Yahel program. I was constantly looking around me, eager to soak in every bit of information my eyes, ears and brain could wrap themselves around. I tried to pick up bits of Arabic, and to immerse myself in my environment.
During our barbeque in the desert, I sat with my friends Ahmad, Rami, and Feikh, and had the chance to talk politics (something I love doing). Generally, I’m hesitant to bring up Israel up in conversation when I’m outside of Israel, but I went for it. They were surprisingly receptive to the topic and we discussed Israel’s policies with the Palestinians, Arab citizens of Israel, and the Bedouin. They discovered that I’m currently volunteering in Israel in the Ethiopian community of Gedera, and they also knew I was Jewish. Most Israelis develop ulcers when I tell them I was in an Arab country and told locals I was Jewish and working in Israel. ”Are you crazy? It’s not safe! Maybe it’s because you’re American. I could never go there.” I can be crazy, Jordan is quite safe, I am an American, and I saw plenty of Israelis in Petra.
Why am I talking about Jordan and my experiences there? It’s because Yahel has given me new tools to explore new cultures. When you go into a new culture, you have to drop your prior stigmas, and your prejudices. You give everyone a clean slate, and if you do it genuinely, I believe people are willing to do the same for you. Perhaps general Arab sentiment towards Israel tends to be negative. So what? Until you come to the table with a smile and open mind, the stigmas against Arabs and against Israelis and against Jews will never disappear. All your experiences are through a clouded lens. People appreciate when others genuinely open up to them. Coming to Gedera, it was not until I opened up and gave myself to the program and the community that I began reaping the benefits, and the same goes for my travels in Jordan. I look forward to using this knowledge in every country, state, and culture I encounter and explore for the rest of my life. Thank you, Yahel.
Filed under: community, Community Garden, Diversity, Empowerment, Ethiopian Jews, Impact, Initiative, Israel, Israel & Israelis, life-changing, Living abroad, Social Change, sowing seeds, Uncategorized, volunteering | No Comments »
A new generation of young Jews are coming to Israel to prusue Jewish learning while contributing to, and interacting with, low-income populations. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Masada: check. Jerusalem’s old city: check. Tel Aviv’s nightlife: check. Bedouin tent: check. Yad Vashem Holocaust museum: check. What really is there left to do or see in Israel after a whirlwind, 10-day Birthright trip?
A lot, it turns out – starting with slowing down.
“It’s not that I did not love Birthright when I went on it,” says Samantha Sisisky, a 23-year-old from Richmond, Virginia who raced through, and “got into,” Israel during her senior year of college at the University of Virginia – thanks to the famous free trip that has brought some 320,000 young Jews to Israel in the last 13 years. “I totally drank the Kool-Aid and it was totally awesome.
“And then I was ready to return and see something more real.”
According to Avi Rubel, the North America director of MASA, the joint Jewish Agency and Israeli government umbrella organization that oversees some 200 study, volunteer, internship, adventure and other experiences for young Jewish adults in Israel – these sorts of sentiments are far from unique.
Among the fastest growing post-college programs to Israel today, says Rubel, is the genre of so-called Jewish service learning trips. This is where participants come to Israel, dig in their heels in one, usually less-than-glamorous-location, and try and do some good – while at the same time rooting their experience within the context of social change and Jewish values.
Sisisky, for example, is spending nine months in a low income, predominantly Ethiopian neighborhood in Gedera, a town of some 20,000 residents in the center of the country. She shares a small house with seven other young Americans, takes Hebrew classes – and sets out every day to be an assistant English teacher in the local school, help kids with homework, tutor adults at the community center, and hoe and weed in the community vegetable garden.
Group sessions and lectures tackle such questions as, “What constitutes community, Jewishly, and otherwise,” and “What is one’s role and responsibility to that community.”
“Boring? Sometimes,” she smiles. “But I would not trade it for the world.”
A group of volunteers sitting with members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community in Gedera. Eliyahu Hershkovitz
“Obviously we are not Ethiopian Israelis, but I feel we do become part of the community. We walk around the streets and are invited into our neighbors’ homes. We might work with one kid, and then their older brother, and then with their mom or dad. We have host families. We have a place here.” And, she adds, as if an afterthought, “We also are doing some good.”
“I have found that there are a lot of people who crave a different connection to Israel,” says Dana Talmi, who founded the organization– called Yahel, Israel Service Learning – that Sisisky’s program is part of. Done right, Talmi says, such service-learning experiences can both help repair the world – and ignite the Jewish souls of those who serve.
There have always been many volunteer programs in Israel, Talmi and Rubel will be the first to admit. But if in the past this community work was done as a component of a broader Israel “experience” program, without much coordination with grassroots groups and without being tied into Jewish values and philosophy – the landscape now is changing.
Today, a small but growing number of volunteering programs, as exemplified by Yahel, which Rubel calls MASA’s model “boutique” service learning experience, or BINA, a popular program run by the Jewish Center for Identity and Hebrew Culture, that places North Americans in struggling Tel Aviv neighbors, where many of the African asylum seekers live, are becoming more serious – and finding a successful balance between community impact and participants’ personal development.
Talmi, an Israeli who grew up bouncing between Israel and Europe with her musician parents, returned to live in Israel five years ago, after six years in the United States. There, besides getting a degree in social work from UNC-Chapel Hill, Talmi also worked for the American Jewish World Service, a Jewish values-based international development organization. She spent several years with AJWS taking young Jews on service learning trips to Honduras – and later served as the program officer in charge of all group leading.
Back in Zichron Ya’akov with her Venezuelan-born husband and two young children, with a dream of creating a high level Israel-focused Jewish service learning program, Talmi began reaching out to local social action groups to find partners, and then, reaching out in the other direction, to MASA and organizations like New York City-based Repair the World to form alliances and get funding. The Yahel nine-month program, like almost all of MASA’s longer programs, is heavily subsidized, with participants paying in the range of just $1000 for the entire program.
“What I didn’t want to do is just take kids down to Netivot and have them paint murals on walls,” says Talmi. Working with grass roots organizations, such as, in the case of Gedera, an outfit called Friends by Nature, gave Talmi a sense of what volunteer work was needed, and where these North American youngsters, the majority of whom do not speak Hebrew and do not have much if any professional training, could do actual good.
Yahel participant Benson Ansell, 26, from Arlington, Virginia, admits he is not sure who is getting more out of the program – him or the community. If anything, he would bet it’s him. “I had never felt super connected to being Jewish, even though part of me was always interested,” says Benson, who grew up with a Jewish father and a Christian mother, and spent a year teaching in Philadelphia as part of the AmeriCorps program City Year, and a stint studying abroad in Senegal before considering a trip to Israel.
“But after being here, that has changed,” says Ansell. “I have been amazed by is the diversity of the Jewish people: the history and where they come from. I became aware of minorities and marginalized communities here and it has been a real eye opener.”
Talmi dismisses criticism that programs such as Yahel or BINA expose foreigners to the “dirty laundry” of the country, and a Jewish Agency/Repair the World report released recently shows that, in fact, such exposure to Israel’s more difficult social problems engages, rather than turns off, young people. “There is no need to present a rose-colored version of Israel,” says Dyonna Ginsburg, the Jewish Agency’s director of Jewish service learning. “In fact, the more these young men and women learn about Israel – warts and all – the stronger their connection is to the country, their heritage and their Judaism.”
What’s next for the Gedera gang? “Aliyah is not a goal for us,” says Talmi. “If they stay, great. But really, what we want is for them for have a nuanced relationship with Israel.”
“I am confused now,” admits Jessica Braverman, another Yahel participant. The 26 year old from Atlanta, Georgia with a master’s degree in social work and non-profit management from the University of Georgia, did Birthright in 2009, and felt she had put the requisite “check” in the Israel box.
“I thought I would not come back afterwards. I felt like I had “done it” and was going to move on to bigger and better places,” she says. But, looking for an opportunity to go abroad after her masters, and with one foot out to door to a teaching program in Tbilisi, Georgia, she found herself browsing the MASA website.
“The decision to come here has really changed me,” she says. “I have learned how incredibly complex Israeli society is, and I have also grown a lot Jewishly this year. And now, I flip flop between thinking I will go home after these nine months and move on with my life, and thinking I might like to stay, move to Jerusalem and study some more. I am confused.”
“Confusing them,” concludes Talmi with a laugh. “That is our goal.”
This article was written by Danna Harman and originally published in the March 6th, 2013 Haaretz. You can find the original publication, here.
Filed under: community, Diversity, Empowerment, Ethiopian Jews, Immersion, Impact, Israel, Israel & Israelis, Jewish Learning, life-changing, Teens and kids, Uncategorized, volunteering | No Comments »
The best part about the Jewish journey is that it never ends. There’s always a new exciting lesson waiting right around the corner. Sometimes I have those clear and refreshing moments when I think I have a handle on all the confusion in life and have found the answers and the insights. Then a new experience suddenly surfaces that casts everything into a different light. And then the journey continues…
That’s what happened over my 10 day service learning program in Israel. This January I had the privilege to continue my Jewish journey as a participant in Yahel’s Alternative Break service learning program with the Ethiopian Jewish community in Ramat Eliyahu, a neighborhood in Rishon L’Tzion. The program was led by a combination of seasoned staff and remarkable student leaders. I noticed and was deeply appreciative of all the effort invested in planning the program.
As a group of 14 students from the University of Maryland we spent our time learning about Ethiopian history, culture, and their stories and struggles integrating into Israeli society. We were hosted by families in the Ethiopian community. I have never encountered such warm and inviting people. We stayed in their homes for 10 days, and bear in mind that most of these families had many young children and challenging lives. It wasn’t very easy for them to host us, but they did it with love and warmth, and as the trip progressed we learned how to reciprocate that love and deep respect.
I had the unique opportunity to stay with the Kess, the religious and spiritual guide of the Ethiopian Jewish community in Ramat Eliyahu. The Kess had a rather small 3 bedroom home with six very cute, energetic children. He hosted three of us and we took one of the three bedrooms, which means that all of his six children crammed into one of the other bedrooms. This didn’t seem to bother them. The children were so warm toward us and were always excited to see us, play games with us, and do their homework with us when we spent time with them in the evenings. I spent many nights listening and learning from the Kess about Ethiopian Jewish life and the struggles he and his community went through in their journey to Israel.
In terms of our tangible service activities, we painted and cleaned up a bomb shelter and an absorption center, helped construct a community garden, and helped repair an elderly woman’s home. These service activities were well received by the community. The elderly woman we helped had such a sad story; her husband had passed away the previous year, she was struggling to make a living on her own, and her home was in disrepair. After we finished repairing and painting her home, she had this glowing smile and I felt a connection to her through the chesed I had done for her. The joy on her face was something still blazed into my memory that I will never forget. She really was touched by our care and concern for her difficult situation.
An important element of the trip, on top of the warmth of the host families and the service projects we worked on, was the group dynamic. I was very impressed with every single one of the 14 students on our trip. Everyone was clearly very intelligent, curious, compassionate, and deeply respectful. It was a perfect combination that enabled us to have a safe space to engage in deep meaningful discussions about a host of issues affecting our Jewish outlook. We had moving conversations in which we could express our honest opinions on topics such as the value of service trips, our relationship to the rest of the world and to Israel, our connection and viewpoint on Judaism… People were so honest and had fresh perspectives to share on these issues. What made the trip amazing was the safe place we created in which we could grow and explore these questions and issues in an honest and respectful forum.
In my Jewish journey so far I have been exposed to spirituality through prayer and textual learning. I have done chesed activities on an informal basis and participated as a Jewish outreach advisor in a national Jewish organization. But despite my 13+years of Jewish education/involvement, I picked up an important piece of the puzzle on the Yahel service trip. A unique and fundamental facet to being a Jew and a human being, that was dormant in me prior to this trip.
I started to learn how to feel the world around me, and not just to feel a connection to the supportive community and individuals who fall within my comfort zone. Prior to this trip I didn’t feel empowered to connect to and seek to make a difference in the lives of people outside of my comfort zone; people less fortunate than me who have less than me. However, this trip challenged me to face this value and evaluate myself deeply and with 100% honesty. Ultimately, it brought that value in me to the surface. It exposed me, challenged me, and guided me to learning how to feel a connection to these issues and the challenges in the world around me. It empowered me to feel that I can stand up and take an active role to help improve the lives of people who struggle and have less than me, and to develop a connection with those people.
I feel more honest about my opinions and recognize that I still have much to learn about these issues. I feel more open minded and not afraid of those who are different me. I am no longer afraid to step outside of my comfort zone.
Yet, I am fully aware that I will continue to be wrapped up in my own life pursuits. That won’t change, and honestly it shouldn’t change. We all have goals and should strive to achieve them.
What has changed, though, is that I see my future destiny intertwined with a focused effort to help those less fortunate than me and to continue to feel a connection to the world around me. I’m not sure where that will take me and how exactly it will translate into service, but I am ready for my next Jewish adventure! And I will always remember that the Jewish journey never ends.
Here, Yonatan builds raised beds in the Ramat Eliyahu Community Garden in Rishon L’Tzion with other Insight Program participants from the University of Maryland Hillel.
Yonatan Isser is a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park in the A. James Clark School of Engineering. He is completing his BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering in May 2013 and will be working in the construction industry on high rise buildings. Yonatan has been an active leader in the Orthodox Jewish community at the University of Maryland for three years and his interests include reading, running, basketball, and traveling.
Yonatan just returned from spending 10 days on Yahel’s Insight Program in Rishon L’Tzion, run in collaboration with Gar’in Ichud of Friends by Nature and supported by Repair the World.
Filed under: community, Diversity, Ethiopian Jews, Immersion, Israel, Israel & Israelis, Living abroad, racism | No Comments »
Last week, our group visited the Eco-Israel program on the Hava v’Adam Farm near Modi’in. The program is a 5-month MASA-funded program that provides a learning experience focused on permaculture, sustainability, communal living, Israel, and Jewish peoplehood. We had the opportunity to tour the farm and speak with the participants about their experience on the program, which is ending in about 2 weeks. Learning about permaculture, we played a game during which we each had to chose two people to stay equidistant from. When one person moved, everyone else adjusted their position, as well. This game helped us to see how ecosystems are interdependent. While the discussion focused on our physical environment, I think that it is also a good representation of how people are connected.
Last week, Savyonne and I went to a conference at Tel Aviv University on Migration and Well-Being. We learned about migration in to and within Israel, USA, and Europe. Migration has been a common theme among people since the beginning, and it has also been common among Jews. When natural disasters, persecution, or civil disputes influence people to migrate en masse, individuals are affected as well as the countries and communities to which people go. The attitudes toward immigrants often affect individuals’ and families’ well-being and sense of self. At the same time, communities welcoming immigrants change when new cultures are introduced. When talking about the Ethiopian Israeli experience in Israel, it is important to look at the narratives of both people from the host culture (Israel) and those who are emigrating (Ethiopian Jews). I think that we have seen during our 4 months here how Israel has changed as a result of Ethiopian Jews immigrating to Israel and how Ethiopian Jews have changed since immigrating to Israel. While there have been issues of racism and discrimination, at the same time Israelis have benefited from an increase in knowledge of diversity among Jews. Ethiopian Jews have suffered greatly in coming to Israel, but they have also benefited in a number of ways. Many people will explain in their narratives about the loss they experienced as well as the arduous journey of getting to Israel. At the same time, I have not heard one person say that they would rather be in Ethiopia. Israel is the home for both the people who emigrated and for their children who were born here.
Our own narratives may be similar in nature – how much we’ve learned or how frustrated we are at the Israeli school system – but each one of us is going to have a different struggle and a unique understanding about our time here. Like the game we played at the farm, our experiences are dependent upon how we interact with the people we live and work with everyday, our physical environment, and an exchange of ideas and attitudes about the Israeli culture
They had donkeys on this farm.
The solar panel was one of the coolest things on the farm!
Filed under: community, Diversity, Ethiopian Jews, Immersion, Israel, Israel & Israelis, Jewish holiday, Living abroad, stereotypes | 2 Comments »
After graduating from college, I wanted to take at least one year off before deciding on a career. I wanted to experience something new and different and also wished to be of service and give back. I looked into programs from Africa to India, when I came across something that stood out. But, it was located in Israel. To me, Israel meant Zionist Judaism. I saw it as a religious place, where everyone would either force me to go to services or become a rabbi. Jews lived in New York City; I grew up there—why go to a land filled with more Jews, when I wanted to experience a change?
Clearly, I did not understand Israel. How could I think a country located in the Middle East was not cool enough for me? I had completely overlooked Israel’s diversity because it was never presented to me. Whenever people spoke of Israel it was always portrayed through one lens only. Until I came across the Yahel Social Change program, I had never looked at Israel as a dynamic place.
In Israel I live in the Shapira neighborhood where everyone knows each other. This is far different from my experience at home. Here, I walk down the street and say “Shalom” to everyone I see. People know who I am, and unlike in New York, people take the time to notice me.
Whenever there is a wedding or a funeral, everyone in the community gathers to celebrate the wedding or mourn those who have gone. Judaism plays an important role in the community—people keep kosher, they talk about religious issues and the holidays are always relevant.
Shapira has given me the opportunity to experience a new side of Israel and get a better understanding of Judaism. I recognized that Judaism is also a collective identity and not solely based on religious aspects. I have experienced it first-hand by living in this community and by witnessing the love and support that connects everyone. Walking down the street in Israel is a Jewish experience. I feel a common bond with the people here that can only be described as a Jewish one.
At home the only time I felt this intense feeling of community was in synagogue, but I always had trouble embracing it because it was in the context of religion. In the Youth Center, while tutoring and wherever I am in Shapira, I feel we share something special. This Jewish connection is not something tangible—it is an intuitive affinity. It is experienced as a feeling of safety and trustworthiness. As different as I thought an Ethiopian Israeli and I would be, the common denominator of Judaism links us together.
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A couple of months ago, Dana told us about an idea she and Cheli, our Associate Director, had to organize a team of runners to run in a joint fundraiser for Yahel and Friends by Nature at the Tel Aviv Marathon. Later that night, I looked into fundraising options and emailed Dana to let her know I was interested in helping. I had no idea what I was getting into. Within a few days I was in contact with Cheli and we were researching fundraising platforms and talking about how to go about putting together a team. I also, in the hopes of setting a good example, volunteered to run. After this conversation, I was terrified. I had no idea what I had to offer if I knew nothing about organizing a running team and I was certainly not a runner.
The first step was recruiting runners. I was in charge of getting as many of the Yahelnikim (Yahel participants) to join the team. With the help of several announcements and some peer pressure, I am happy to say that all eight of us are running! I also reached out to the Yahel alumni to ask them for their help promoting our cause. I was surprised and touched by all the kind and thoughtful responses I got. The run got more exciting when the Schusterman Foundation’s ROI Community agreed to match all of our donations 1:1 up to $5,000!
As of today we have a team of 23 runners running a combined 223km! We are a team of North Americans and Israelis, from the Shapira community and beyond, running together to raise money and promote awareness about Shapira and the wonderful people in it. We are “taking strides to make strides” towards a multicultural Israeli society. I am so proud to be a member of this wonderful community and am so excited to run for something that I truly believe in.
For more information about our campaign or to donate please visit: http://www.indiegogo.com/YahelFriendsByNature/x/1897096.
Filed under: community, Empowerment, Ethiopian Jews, Israel, Israel & Israelis, Living abroad | No Comments »
I think the beauty of Israel gets lost in the vast pool of international media. Bombs, sirens, rocket fire, Palestinian statehood, Israeli settlement building, human rights debates and sleazy politicians distract us from a simple truth: there is beauty here. Be it a simple invitation to Shabbat dinner, or a night time walk with friends; a smile from a child who just learned new words in English, or a late night visit from people in our neighborhood, there is beauty in Israel.
The extent of this beauty was visible and apparent to me at an unexpected time. Last week, a woman died in her apartment—a mother of seven. Stories flew around as to what happened. I heard she fell and hit her head. Regardless of the reason, what I saw occur in the week that followed was fascinating and made me feel like, “Wow. I live in a real community of people.” Community. “Common unity” as our tour guide, Jeremy, would say.
The entire week, people were downstairs under Shapira’s very own building number nine praying, consoling and comforting one another. From what I witnessed, no one was neglected in this process. Kids still made their way to school, people attended wedding-related ceremonies at the community center, and still there was a constant presence to tend to the family who just lost a mother. What will happen to her kids? After seeing the support in her absence, I do not fear for her children’s well being. It takes a village to raise a child. In this community, this old phrase rings true.
Back home in the US, in my experience, when someone dies there is grief and sadness, but there is also a tinge of discomfort that seems to slide into the mix of emotions. Discomfort in acknowledging death’s foothold in the world, and also discomfort in terms of how to address the issue when talking to those directly affected. Discomfort, I believe, creates distance. We distance ourselves from what discomforts us, and in turn, this sometimes can create distance between people. This is not common unity. Here in Shapira, I felt that people came closer together than I had seen up until that point. Everyone on the block knew what happened, and everyone paid their respects. It’s a big family here, and it’s beautiful.
Tonight there is a henna ceremony happening at the community center. A friend of mine came by to see if I want to go, and when I finish this blog post, I’ll be joining in the festivities and the fun and the laughter. Lieberman might be being indicted for some political scandal, construction in East Jerusalem might be underway, and maybe Hamas is planning its next big fireworks show. So, the next time you open that newspaper and you read some headline about some terrible, catastrophic, depressing political explosion, just remember: down on the ground in this small place called Shapira, beautiful things are happening, and they don’t talk about this in the news.
Filed under: community, Diversity, Empowerment, friendship, Impact, Initiative, Israel, Israel & Israelis, Kibbutz, Social Change, Uncategorized | No Comments »
So Yahel has traveled North,
Guided on our journey forth,
Inspecting, reflecting upon our worth,
Our common unity, of course,
We say community for short,
Our time in Gedera was cut short,
By rockets fired like a torch,
I saw them flying from the porch,
Our unit spread out like a fork,
Then came together in the North,
A sigh of relief, now everything’s fine,
Inhale, exhale, now it’s time to dine,
Dancing and singing with no drop of wine,
We’re singing to Sade, in tune with her line,
‘Smooth Operator’, we forget the Operation,
Climb on the bus, we rise to our destination,
There’s water, there’s mountains, pure elevation,
The beauty surrounds me and captures my concentration,
We begin to explore, the diversity of this nation,
I chase him, then pass him, Dave from the basement,
“I’m free, I can be!”, I exclaim in amazement,
We’re physical and loud, some may call us the cavemen,
They just couldn’t feel, the nature of our placement,
But I feel it in the air, a Phil Collins transformation,
This life isn’t static, it takes dynamic creation,
Much love for humanity, and pride in your nation,
Everything that I knew, was a deep under-estimation,
The new people I met, helped spark this realization,
Like brother Ali, from the Druze community,
Living in a Jewish state, with a Muslim minority,
But the Druze you see, don’t believe in conformity,
They choose to uphold, their strong religious identity,
Infused with the love, of being Israeli,
Infused with the love, of one GOD above,
If you feel this love, then no one will judge,
Your religious practice, because they know what the fact is,
Our soul is eternal, our life’s essence is spiritual,
Our body is earthly, a transporter, a vehicle,
That moves us on Earth, our mother, our miracle,
But life isn’t easy, there’s hard work to be done,
Let’s start with the basics, let’s go to square one,
The Great Spirit, GOD, the love that binds us together,
That’s present, and guides us, in all our endeavors,
This love that abounds, can in no way be measured,
A woman, a man, create a child, their treasure,
Their love is a unit, and creates unity,
Shared love is the essence, of true community,
To rise in the morning, each day pave the way,
To aspire to live, in the most positive way,
Like our tour-guide and orator, by the name of Jeremy,
Whose stories and knowledge, brought us great clarity,
To the founding of Israel, our shared Jewish memory,
The land’s Jewish pioneers, came to live collectively,
Their socialistic principles, were realized on the Kibbutz,
Jewish hands, working Jewish land, is all that it took,
But things weren’t as easy, as from afar they had looked,
And today, many say, that kibbutz is kaput,
But there’s a new generation, that is far from complacent,
Who see the founding vision, and keep it adjacent,
To their hearts, to their souls, embody cooperation,
The urban kibbutz, is now in operation,
And they see there’s a nation, that is full of abrasion,
Animosity and intense segregation,
Between Arabs and Jews, there’s little communication,
Let us increase our compassion, and start healing this nation,
So let’s let it be known, that us Yahelnikim,
Are not sitting complacent, we have started to dream,
We have started a team, that likes it straight with no cream,
When you’re hiding the truth, we turn on the high beams,
And since we’re all in the struggle, we help one another,
Never look down upon your sister or brother,
And since we share the same mother, we’re all sisters and brothers,
We all become better, when we learn from each other,
Are you under the covers? Do you judge behind shutters?
We all become better when we learn from each other.