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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, Beit Midrash, Diversity, Empowerment, Food, Immersion, Impact, Initiative, Israel, Israel & Israelis, Jewish Learning, Jewish Text, Living abroad, Uncategorized | No Comments »
My experience with Yahel continues to inspire and challenge me everyday. When I got to Israel in September, I knew I wanted to learn more about this country, but I’m not sure if I really knew what I was getting into. My eyes have been opened to some problematic parts of living here, but more often I see the bright spots, the hope for a better future. I figured out a few years ago that my future lies within the Jewish community, although I’m still not sure in what capacity that may be. As time goes on and as I learn more, the answer becomes a bit clearer. All I know for sure is that I want to make this world a little bit better, not worse.
In February, the entire Yahel group went on a 5 day seminar to the Negev. While there, we hiked in the desert, stayed on the kibbutz where Ben-Gurion lived (Sde Boker) and learned about some southern development towns. For me, and for many of my fellow Yahelnikim, the most powerful part of our seminar was our time with the Bedouin community. For those who don’t know, the Bedouins are an indigenous Arabic population living throughout the Middle East, including Israel. There are about 150,000 or so Bedouins currently living in Israel, mostly concentrated in the Negev, the southern desert area of Israel. Yes, they were here before the state of Israel was formed, and they are full citizens of the state now. However, their full citizenship does not necessarily mean equality. When we learned about Ben-Gurion and his vision during our seminar, someone asked our tour guide what he thought of the Bedouins. Our tour guide simply answered, “He didn’t see them.” Ben-Gurion had this grand vision for cultivating the desert and making it a hospitable and thriving place because when he first saw it, he saw emptiness. He didn’t see the people who were already living there.
This mentality seems to still exist today. The Israeli government has tried several times to control the Bedouin population and centralize it into cities and population centers. The government established several townships specifically meant for Bedouin population. However, there are still over 50 Bedouin villages. We stayed in one of the seven recognized villages one night, Qasr al-Sir. These villages are recognized by the Israeli government and therefore have basic services such as water, electricity and sewage. However, it is still a far cry from most towns in Israel, even the small town of Gedera. It was a strange juxtaposition to see satellite TV dishes and unpaved roads in the same village. We slept in a tent and enjoyed dinner and breakfast cooked by a local women’s catering company. We then went to an unrecognized village (there are about 43) the next day, and the situation seemed grim. They do not have water, electricity or garbage collection provided by the government, and the unemployment rates are very high. We spoke with one of the leaders of the village who was very frustrated with the Israeli government. They were fighting for recognition, but the community leaders often lack the political savvy, knowledge or experience to successfully navigate the Israeli government’s bureaucracy. The entire experience was very hard to reconcile.
The Bedouin tent experience is a quintessential part of Birthright, but this was no Birthright experience at all. I’m wondering if a Jewish state means a state that is only for Jews. That’s not the reality here, and it’s never going to be; the Jewish state needs to be a state for all its citizens, not just its Jewish ones. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: the best way to support Israel is to be critical and help make change.
I’m reading the book “Mountains Beyond Mountains” about Dr. Paul Farmer. He has dedicated his life to helping the poorest of the poor in Haiti, treating them for tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. I’m inspired by his life and work but at the same time very daunted. He has committed all his time to doing good, and he’s actually making a difference and where am I? I don’t have a Harvard Medical School degree, so I can’t cure people of TB. I’m still trying to figure out what I can do to make this world a better place, not a worse one. I think it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed because there is just so much wrong and injustice in this world, but I’m trying to see the bright spots, the good people, that are turning things around. I want to be one of those people. As Paul Farmer said, “I’ve never known despair and I don’t think I ever will.”
So this is my little way of trying to make things better. I don’t know what I can do to make things better in Israel, but at least I can spread some awareness to some people and maybe get the wheels in your mind turning. Our trip was led and organized by a group called Bustan (click the name for more info), and they really did an amazing job of showing us a complete picture of the situation and how they are trying to help (including their women employment development, like the catering company that cooked for us).
The idea of pursuing social change can be scary. I didn’t realize that until this year, but I also didn’t realize that that was exactly what I want and need to do. In what capacity, I’m not sure yet, but I’m figuring it out. There’s a Hebrew song that I’ve known since I was a kid, but the words have finally kicked in:
כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד, והעיקר – לא לפחד כלל
The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to despair at all.
It’s actually a pretty catchy song with a great message–the Jews really knew how to do it back in the day. I’m also learning the song in Amharic!
I’ll end by recalling the Exodus story that Jews just recently retold at the Passover Seder. I believe the story resonates with Jews in many ways. Some can take away from it that we retell the story every year to remind ourselves of the bitterness of our enslavement and to prevent it from ever happening to us again. We as a Jewish people must remain strong and having a Jewish state to call our own is important in ensuring our freedom. On the other hand, we can also realize that this bondage is not something that any people would want to endure. Exodus 23:9 reads, “You shall not oppress a stranger for you know the feeling of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” I think for a long time, the fear of being the “stranger” once again has influenced the actions and reactions of the Jewish people and state. I hope that now, Jews can lead the way in preventing injustice throughout the world, to Jews and non-Jews alike.
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: Diversity, Empowerment, friendship, Immersion, Impact, Initiative, Israel, Israel & Israelis, life-changing, student, teacher, Teens and kids, volunteering | No Comments »
I just started working in Gedera’s school for the developmentally disabled. I am coming in during their physical education block twice a week for two hours and I’m working as an extra staff member, extra set of eyes and body for the students aged between 12-23.
It was intimidating to walk into the school at first. The students don’t speak English and they act very differently than most kids. But in the end it’s an easy push to do it, because I know how important and meaningful this work is.
I started working with two young students. I watch them, tell them stories, talk to them about my day and my life. They don’t speak, but I know our relationship is developing. In the beginning they wandered off and might even put her head between her legs. Now we make more eye contact. I feel like I can read them by their demeanor and they actually communicate a lot, but not with words.
There was a moment where one student took my arm and wanted to hold it as we stared into the street together. We stood together for 15 minutes and just smiled and laughed. I don’t think we were staring at anything in particular, but we connected and it was nice.
I signed up for this project, because I wanted to do meaningful work in a community that I feel connected to. My mom did work similar to this and so did my father. My mom taught ESL in a high density immigrant neighborhood and my father served as a school trustee and worked on a special education committee. They’re both retired now.
I believe that the only way a society can be judged is by how it treats its marginalized, and a society needs empathy to do this work. It’s not just about progress for economic want. Empathy is necessary to address real human need. And it offers me a great lesson in how important humility is, in receiving that support.
Filed under: Beit Midrash, Initiative, Israel, Israel & Israelis, Jewish Learning, Jewish Text, Social Change, Uncategorized | No Comments »
Parshat Bo contains the heart of the Passover story: the recounting of the final plague of the first born, and what appears to be the final decision of the Pharaoh to allow the people of Israel to leave Egypt. Actually, “allow” might not be the best word to describe what really happens. Pharaoh tells Moshe and Aharon in Shemot 12:31:
קוּמוּ צְּאוּ מִתּוֹךְ עַמִּי
Get up, leave from the midst of my people!
And, after this incident, it seems that we’ve finally won, that we’re finally going to be free. We’re even told that God intervenes with the Egyptians to insure that we don’t leave empty handed, causing them to lend us silver and gold vessels and clothing. If this were a movie, or at least a cheesy one, the closing credits might even run here, with a frozen shot of Moses and Aaron grinning ear-to-ear, mid-jump, with the entire community of Israel behind them, unable to contain their excitement. But this isn’t a movie, and the story doesn’t end here.
Those of us who know the story know that Pharaoh changes his mind; the Sea of Reeds has yet to part, Moshe has yet to sing, Miryam has yet to take up her timbrel. However, with or without prior knowledge, after we begin to bake our first matzot, the following verse, Shemot 12:42 is, without a doubt, strange:
לֵיל שִׁמֻּרִים הוּא לַיהוָה, לְהוֹצִיאָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם: הוּא-הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה לַיהוָה, שִׁמֻּרִים לְכָל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְדֹרֹתָם
A night of vigil it is for Hashem, to bring them out from the land of Egypt; this night is Hashem’s, a vigil for all the children of Israel for all of their generations.
Although I’m drawn into the beauty of this verse, envisioning God as a father or mother awake all night, caring for their feverish child until daybreak, until the illness passes, I’m also struck by the verse’s present tense and parallelism of the actions of God and our own. It is a night of vigil: the vigil never stops, the need for freedom from oppression even when it appears in our own world that everything is fine. And though this night belongs to God, the vigil is for us as well, and for all generations.
As we approach major decisions both in the state of Israel and a year of continuing decisions in the United States which have strong effects on the rights of many, to me, these words are a reminder of our responsibility to be watchful. Reading this verse in context without reference to the ongoing hardships we endured after the Exodus, I discern a call for our ongoing awareness. Even though we likely felt as though we were free, God is still on guard. And we’re told that we too should be on guard, forever. As much as God is keeping vigil against the metaphorical Egypts which continue to exist, we too are to be aware and on guard, not only for ourselves, but for all peoples, as freedom is a fragile gift and needs our constant attention.
Michael Summa is a first year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR currently studying in Jerusalem. He studied composition and vocal performance at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, and is active as a composer of Jewish music.
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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.
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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.
Filed under: community, Empowerment, Ethiopian Jews, friendship, Home, Immersion, Impact, Initiative, Israel & Israelis, Jewish holiday, Living abroad, racism, seeds, Uncategorized, volunteering, Yom Kippur | No Comments »
“Advice for good love: Don’t love
those from far away. Take yourself one
The way a sensible house will take
local stones for its building
stones which have suffered in the same cold
and were scorched by the same sun…”
This poem is entitled “Advice for Good Love,” and it is written by Yehuda Amichai. It is written about a beloved, but like all good love poems, it shines more broadly onto the cultivation of nurturing and intimate space between friends, family and amidst community. His poem begs his readers to consider, with whom will we build our home?
As discussed in my last post, a lot of the work of teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a process of returning to beginnings. Home is the symbol of many of our beginnings and beginnings yet built. So, this question seems fitting this holiday season. It has particular resonance with individuals in transitory phases, like those in our Social Change program who have just traveled across the ocean to start a new home and also with whole groups who are facing important decisions about their future together: young couples, families, and even entire communities.
The Ethiopian-Israeli community, one of the largest recent immigrant communities, came to Israel to fulfill a dream of returning to their ancient homeland. In order to do this, a lot was sacrificed. They entered into a world with a different religious discourse, a culture where Amharic and Tigrinya were not spoken on the streets and where the daily rhythm and work environment were tremendously foreign. To exacerbate all of this, the community has faced the realities of overt and structural racism. The process of building a home has been a struggle.
One of the most simple and I think powerful contributions to this process of settling and building a home, is echoed in Amichai’s voice. The foundations for home come from local stones. A community’s power lies in the people themselves and everything they carry with them– the cultural wisdom, the history, the inventiveness, personalities, and the love they share. Investing in each other and working together seems to be the most concrete formula for this work.
Let us not underestimate the power of protest and policy change, however the focus of our work at Yahel is from the ground-up. We provide a unique method of service learning, where our participants explore the meaning of and build community together, while investing in the broader community in which they live and work. We partner with local nonprofits and run programs for youth and elderly in the local neighborhood to encourage community engagement and to develop local social-resources. Yahel works to support its participants and at the same time strengthen the community they live in by supporting its people, the inheritors of and builders of these new homes.
The work of teshuva is a personal task, something that only an individual or a community can do for themselves. But there is also room to influence one another in the process– we can be the stones and the hands that help build or the reinforcement and support for them. My hope for our Social Change participants, the community they will be joining in Gedera, and for all of us is that we may be blessed this holiday season with the open eyes and hands to do the work of teshuvah. May we may go back to our foundation stones to rebuild our homes, communities and ourselves and we may be graced with support from each other in this work. Shanah tova, vgmar chatimah tova.
Ross Weissman is Yahel’s Recruitment and Digital Media Associate. He has studied at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Yeshivat Hadar in New York and will begin studying this Fall for his MA in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan.
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 Garden, Diversity, Ethiopian Jews, friendship, Immersion, Impact, Initiative, Israel, Jewish Learning, sowing seeds, volunteering | Tags: Community, Friendship, Gardening, Jewish diversity, Learning, Volunteer | No Comments »
The group is having a great time in Israel!
Since the last update the group has been busy filling their days with an incredible mix of work, fun and learning. Last week saw the first day of the work project in Yavne get its start. The group was split between making raised palette beds for planting, breaking wood down for the beds, putting in an irrigation system and weeding the area around the community center.
Over this past weekend the group had a relaxing Shabbat at the Hava v’Adam farm outside of Modi’in. The teens got a tour of the farm the first day they were there and were “amazed” by what can grow in the harsh summer climate in Israel. The group celebrated Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday night and planned their own teen-led service on Saturday morning. The teens got into teams and cooked all of their own meals over the weekend.
After leaving the farm the group had a day with Rabbi Yonatan Neril of Jewish Eco Seminars. Rabbi Neril was a former Tawonga staff and camper himself who has made aliyah to Israel and founded this organization. He taught the group about the ecological history of Israel and took them into some caves for hiking and exploring to connect, a few photos of the group’s day with Jewish Eco Seminars are on their Facebook page here. A fact that the group learned is that Israel is the only country in the world that now has more trees than when it was founded!
The group is now back on the work project all week in Yavne and the weekend clearly revitalized them because they had a “very strong work day” according to all the staff. They finished the first planting bed for the garden and are learning lots of skills with woodworking and construction tasks. The group also spent part of the day meeting their host families from Yavne who they will stay with this Friday night and doing a weaving activity with seniors from the community and finished the day off with a pool party with the Yavne teens.
Today the group has a partial work day and then a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum outside of Jerusalem for should be a moving, solemn and informative visit. The rest of the week is on the worksite and with the community in Yavne before the homestays over Shabbat.
We’ll continue to update you on the group’s progress, they are having a wonderful time and the impact of the trip is really beginning to sink in for all of them.
Follow the group and view more pictures on Yahel’s Facebook Page.