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: Arab-Israeli, community, Community Garden, Hiking, Immersion, Impact, Initiative, Israel, Israel & Israelis, Jewish Learning, life-changing, Teens and kids | No Comments »
The group has had an amazing past few days, putting quite a few kilometers under their wheels as they’ve traveled from the far north of the country all the way down to the Negev Desert in the south.
After concluding their time with the Israeli Tawonga campers from the north the group headed southwest to the Haifa area where they went to Shorashim for a day of learning and dialogue on Arab-Israeli relations. The day started with some historical background and an activity showing maps and border changes over the past centuries and also included meeting up with some Arab-Israeli teens the same age as the TSL group for a session of questions and dialogue. The group then traveled to Piki’in, a predominantly Druze village where they enjoyed a magnificent feast and some learning about the mysterious Druze religion. The day concluded in Haifa with a visit to the spectacular Bahai gardens and lots of new perspectives on the multiple faiths that Israel’s Jewish majority shares the land with.
From Haifa the group traveled south down the coast to Tel Aviv for a day in the urban hub of the country. There was some free time for shopping and perusing in the shuk, or market, and lots of relaxing on the beach in the center of the city on the Mediterranean Sea. The group finished the day by driving into the magical Negev Desert where they spent the night.
After the Negev night, the group had a “Negev: Unplugged” tour with Bustan, a Bedouin rights organization. This proved to be a really eye-opening day for the group as they learned about Bedouin life in Israel historically and in present day and visited both recognized and unrecognized villages. The group really began to appreciate and realize the fact that on this trip they have seen and done things that most tourists, tour groups and even Israelis don’t get to do or see.
The group then climbed the historic Mt. Masada and got a guided tour of the story of the Jewish Zealots who left their mark there. After descending Masada they visited the Ein Gedi spring and took a dip in some waterfalls and pools to cool off before heading to the Dead Sea, the lowest land on the planet for some floating and mud bathing, which they thoroughly enjoyed.
For the past 4 weeks your teens have been on a journey through Israel where they’ve spent two weeks working on a service project in the community of Yavne and traveled to some of Israel’s most famous sights, as well as some off-the-beaten path treasures.
Along the way, these teens have brought the Tawonga spirit with them and engaged in some world and life-changing work. At the end of their trip, the group is now at Camp Tawonga to relax and process their experience amongst the peacefulness of the tall, tall trees.
This group of teens has been fantastic – thank you for sharing them with us!
Filed under: community, Diversity, friendship, Hiking, Immersion, Impact, Initiative, Israel, Jewish Learning, Living abroad, volunteering | Tags: Community, Hiking, Israel, Jewish diversity, Learning, Living abroad, Volunteer | No Comments »
It’s been an interesting and busy first three weeks for the Yahel Onward Israel program here in Haifa! During the first week the participants started to get their feet wet, learning about the Hadar neighborhood, its history, layout, population, and even nightlife. However, it didn’t take the group too long before they dove right in to the neighborhood, making trips to the market, getting themselves lost in the area only to discover new places, and befriending the neighbors (most of whom comprise activist communities that have purposefully moved to Hadar in order to create change in the neighborhood). The week culminated in a peaceful Shabbat together, including a group Kabbalat Shabbat, dinner with host families from the Garin Torani (a religious group of social activists located in Hadar), and a trip to the beach.
After a busy orientation week, the participants continued to deepen their understanding of Hadar and of Israeli society by meeting with local activists and speakers on a variety of topics, including the Russian-speaking population in Israel and the summer social protests, as well as through group sessions on community, connection to Israel and charity and justice. Alongside a fairly intensive learning process, the participants began a group mural project, together with American collaborative artist Diana Gilon. The mural, designed and created by the participants themselves, showcased Hadar as a blossoming community, with deep roots and the potential for a positive and vibrant future. It was painted in a central underpass that, a few years ago, was reclaimed and renovated as a community-led, grassroots initiative. The group is privileged and proud to leave their mark on Hadar, both through the mural which will be displayed for the next two months, as well as on canvases, which will be permanently displayed in a neighborhood community center.
The group also had the chance to meet up with other Onward Israel participants from around the country in a three-day seminar dedicated to discussing participants’ connections to the Jewish people and to Jewish heritage. Though the group was a bit hesitant about leaving Hadar, as they had just started to feel at home there, they were happy to have the opportunity to dedicate time to these important subjects so central to their experience here this summer, and excited to discuss these subjects with new friends from the other programs. Especially interesting for the group members was a dramatic performance by Robbie Gringras, presenting stories and experiences surrounding Israeli society combined with the immigrant experience, through both monologue and song. The participants appreciated his candor and connected well with the artistic medium. All in all, they left the seminar with new friends, new perspectives and, most importantly, new questions.
The arrival back in Hadar had a feeling of returning home for the participants, combined with excitement for the upcoming week, as the group finished the mural and opened it to the public, while also doing final preparations for their individual volunteer placements, which they began just three days ago. So far the placements are going quite well, and the participants are acclimating nicely to the new cultures, new norms, new languages and new faces. They are all looking forward to our trip to the Negev this weekend, in which they will be examining various perspectives of development of the desert, will set out on a moonlit hike, and will certainly enjoy the dry heat, as compared to their daily battle with the humidity in Haifa.
We’re all looking forward to a few more weeks of new experiences, learning and fun. More to come soon!
Filed under: community, Diversity, Ethiopian Jews, friendship, Hiking, Immersion, Israel & Israelis, Living abroad, Teens and kids, volunteering | Tags: Community, Ethiopian, Friendship, Hiking, Israel, Israeli food, Teens, Volunteer, Yahel Social Change Program | No Comments »
This morning I woke up early for the Hanukkah tiyul (camping trip) training session. Lisa and I got dressed and then headed for the local bakery around 7:45 am. It’s less than a three minute walk from our house, and whenever you pass by, the most enticingly delicious smell hits your nose. It’s almost impossible to resist going in when walking by, and I hardly ever attempt to resist. Lisa and I go in to find the place packed with people. It’s Friday morning and everyone wants to get the tastiest burekas (essentially flakey pastries filled with a variety of either savory or sweet goodness) in town before Shabbat. Lisa and I joke about buying two of each bureka because they are all fresh out of the oven and still steaming. We load sweet and savory treats into our bag while we attempt to keep our place in line, because the line is practically out of the door. I pay no more than a dollar for my five burekas: two potato, two mushroom & onion, and one chocolate croissant. After Lisa pays for her food, handling the line and Hebrew like a veteran Israeli, we head over to the meeting place for our tiyul.
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