Filed under: Diversity, Empowerment, friendship, Home, Immersion, Israel, Israel & Israelis, life-changing, Living abroad, sowing seeds, Teens and kids | No Comments »
It’s happening to me. I can’t seem to help but imagine a future for myself in this country. Whether I’m in a kibbutz in the north, amidst the Jerusalem bustle, or hiking in the Negev, I keep picturing the life I could lead here.
I never thought that I, of all people, would ever consider making aliyah. I’m not a Zionist. I don’t believe that I have any special right to this land. I can rationalize the need for Israel as a safe haven for persecuted and disenfranchised Jews from all over the world—as it once was for my own survivor grandparents. Where else were Holocaust victims, exiled Jews from Arab lands, and Beta Israel caught between famine and civil war supposed to turn? No other country would accept these people in such large numbers, no matter how desperate their circumstances.
Yet, I can hardly include myself in this category. While I hold an Israeli passport, in truth I’m a middleclass, educated American. In the Californian community where I was born, anti-Semitism is but a distant shadow—a half-forgotten memory of what once was or muted whispers from abroad. When the Yahel Social Change Program ends in June, I can easily go back and lead a comfortable, fulfilling life in the States. If I have other options, I wonder if it’s moral for me to act on my Jewish privilege and move here—to act on my right of return while thousands of diaspora Palestinians cannot. My aliyah inclinations are clearly not the results of nationalist sentiments.
Neither can I offer any spiritual explanations. I’ve never felt deep pangs of longing for my ancestral homeland. When I stand in front of the Kotel, I feel nothing. Or more accurately, I feel whatever I had been feeling the moment before. Nothing changes. I look at the weeping Haredim around me and try to be compassionate, but the reality is that I just can’t relate. Living here hasn’t made me renounce my atheism and decide I have a soul.
So why is the prospect of staying here so tempting? This question baffles me, especially since making the move would mean sacrifices in terms of family, career, and general standards of living. While my desire to stay is largely a mystery to myself, I can begin to grasp at an explanation. Counterintuitively, it seems that the very factors that should make me run from here are what attract me the most.
To borrow an expression from a recent Jewschool blog post, my Israel has warts. Hovering over the ancient ruins, Mediterranean beaches, and mesmerizing deserts is a profound ugliness. This is a land of contradictions; the disturbing and the beautiful intertwine within the same places, often within the same individuals. I have been shown such unconditional warmth in this country. Strangers immediately welcome me into their homes, feed me, and express genuine concern for my wellbeing. Yet, on a daily basis I encounter the most blatant bigotry I have ever witnessed.
In my Israel, bright, promising teenagers tried to convince me that the entire population of Gaza should be wiped out in retribution for rocket fire. In my Israel, no one seems to know (or cares to know) that many Bedouin live in their historic villages without access to water, electricity, or health care. In my Israel, young people think it’s funny to say the n-word and watch me flinch. In my Israel, a local politician compared the older generation of Ethiopian-Israelis to the Israelities who were slaves in Egypt and had to die off before their nation could enter the promised land (implying that these immigrants have nothing of value to offer Israeli society). There is so much loss and suffering here as a result of stubborn unwillingness to understand.
All of these injustices can be overwhelming. It’s hard to know how to act, how to avoid apathy or despair. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard Israelis respond to the news of some tragedy or another with a shrug and the words, “this is how life is in Israel.” And yet—maybe because Israeli society is so new, dynamic, and relatively tiny—real change seems possible to me here in a way it never did in the States. Thanks to Yahel’s learning component, I know that the work we are doing here in Gedera fits into a larger context. Rabbi Levi Lauer, founder and director of Atzum, advised that “the answer to the black hole of metaphysical uncertainty is to ground yourself in a way that your actions have daily consequences—for yourself and your society.” All over this country, activists are doing exactly that.
Their numbers may be small, but novel kinds of communities are forming. Israelis committed to creating social change are coming together. Where others find reasons to dismiss reality or leave the country, this generation hears a call to action. In the newly recognized Bedouin village of Qasr A-Sir, Bustan is helping to create a sustainable, local eco-economy. In courtrooms throughout Israel, Tebeka fights for justice by offering free legal services to Ethiopian-Israelis who have been the victims of discrimination. Tira’s Q school addresses Israeli education and employment gaps with its unique afterschool programs for Arab children, which combine English-learning with personal and communal development. And of course here in the Shapira neighborhood, Friends by Nature runs a number of programs to foster community and empowerment among Ethiopian -Israelis of all ages.
It may seem bizarre, but every time I hear a racist comment, see Sudanese and Eritrean refugees at the South Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, or notice the sudden difference in living conditions as I walk from Shapira towards New Gedera I feel compelled to stay. Each injustice is an opportunity to further understanding and to get to work. And as Rabbi Lauer has often repeated to the Yahelnikim, you need to have partners to make social change happen. There are plenty of those here.
I’ll be in Israel for another year. And, after that? Who knows? The future is, as always, uncertain, but the last six months have already opened my mind to new passions and possibilities. We’ll see where they lead.
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: 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, Ethiopian Jews, friendship, Immersion, Israel & Israelis, Jewish holiday, life-changing, Living abroad, sowing seeds, Uncategorized | No Comments »
“How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwellings, O Israel! As valleys stretched out, as gardens by the river-side; as aloes planted of God, as cedars beside the waters” (Numbers 24:5-6)
On Rosh Hashanah we listen to the blast of the shofar, dip apples into honey and begin a process of teshuvah – return. Defined in the poetry of Lamentations, we read that teshuvah is the work of returning to God, as it says “Return us to you God, and we shall return; renew our days of old.” Without going too much into the complexities of this theology, I believe that this is a process of returning to our roots, to our beginnings, and to the early source of our strength and nurture. This New Year we are invited to revisit our relationships with friends, families, homes or communities that provided these gifts to us– it is no coincidence that we eat with, visit and enjoy the company of many of these people during the holiday season. We are asked during Rosh Hashanah, to return to them, not simply for the sake of doing it, but to strengthen them, to be strengthened by them and to be oriented to the good and valuable that blossoms from them.
The process of returning to our roots is a personal project and also a communal one. In the western world this is a difficult task because culturally we are engrained to look forward in time, not backward, and to ourselves and not to the group. Shifting this orientation requires inspiration–there needs to be visible value (It can be a difficult task to convince someone not to think just for themselves and for those closest to them). However, I think valuing roots and valuing community can emerge by way of participation in and with them, and by hearing intimate narrative of those who have or still experience them. This is a project that we can embark on this coming year– I think this is a major and crucial stage in the teshuvah we are called to do.
Nine college graduates will be arriving to Gedera in just a few days with the Yahel Social Change Program to participate in this process in an inspiring way. They will live together, work together, reflect together and join a warm Ethiopian-Israeli community of friends and families in the Shapira neighborhood. They will jump into the roots of an unfamiliar culture, but one with shared ancient histories and narrative, coupled with a breadth of contemporary cultural links. They will be surrounded by Hebrew and Amharic, presented with the opportunity to daven from familiar siddurim, and note the unexpected references to Tupac graffitied on the city walls. Curiosity and openness will be key in uncovering both these cultural gaps and amazing intersections, enabling their investment in and discovery of community and roots.
Wherever one may be this Rosh Hashanah, I believe this type of return is a major part of the work of teshuva; many Yahel participants will model this for us in the coming year by jumping head-first into it. We are asked to go back to our roots, send out new shoots into the soil, and use them to soak in the water and nourishment around us to help us grow, individually and communally. So my hope for all of us this year, is that we may be blessed with strength, creativity and openness to go back as a way of learning how to go forward, together. May we all have a sweet new year. Shanah 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, friendship, guest post, Home, Immersion, Impact, Israel, life-changing, Living abroad, volunteering | Tags: Community, Friendship, Home, Initiative, Israel, Jewish diversity, Learning, Living abroad, Volunteer | No Comments »
This morning, I leafed through the Haifa information notebook we received on our first day of the program. As I was jogging my memory on the history of Haifa and filling in some blanks about the situation in Hadar, I realized how much I had learned this summer. I expected this experience to be life-changing; it was that and more.
Hadar is such an amazing and diverse neighborhood. When people at home (in Marblehead, MA) ask me: “What did you even do in Israel? Was it like Birthright or something?” I just start off by telling them about this crazy place called Hadar. Living in Hadar gave me a taste of Israel that I would have otherwise never tried. The rich history associated with it, the Russian immigrants, and complete (and sometimes shocking) immersion, gave my time in Hadar character and meaning. You may say I’m even feeling a little bit “home-sick” for Hadar right now.
The individual placements also made a huge impact on me. Working with the elderly population was like discovering a new side of Hadar. These people shared such tear-jerking and unbelievable stories of their lives with Hannah and me. Everyday, we spoke with these people and I think we actually did make a difference. Really, I’m not big on the “White Man’s Burden” idea, but I am big on the “Jewish Man’s (or Woman’s) Responsibility.” It’s not really as much an obligation as it is something I want to do for the good of the receiving end and my own personal growth.
As one of my elderly friends, Ada, told me (in Russian) : “Helping each other. That’s what it means to be a Jew.” In her context she was talking about how in Russia, the doctors refused to treat her mother’s kidney disease, but in Israel they never refused and never told her her mother was too old and would die soon. She lived much longer than ever expected.
The traveling aspect of the program was especially wonderful as well. I’m very thankful that this program incorporated seeing the beauty and diversity of Israel outside of service in Haifa. The night hikes in the Negev, the tour of Jerusalem, even the student’s village
for the JAFI seminar was new and exciting. The tour of Sudanese immigrants sitting in Gan Levinsky in Tel Aviv was mind-boggling and astonishing. Some of these places allowed me moments of silence and reflection either by desert moonlight or at the Kotel. Our program leaders Jacki and Michal were helpful and informative (and awesome people!)
Overall, I came home understanding the skeleton of the issues in Israel. Except now I have a million more questions. I developed a strong connection with the State in 2009 when I went on Y2I (a birthright-esque 10 day trip) and became infatuated by it. But now, it’s safe to say that the lust has evaporated and love has taken its place. My relationship with Israel has deepened. I’m trying to figure out how to keep this experience alive and kicking for a long time and how to integrate it into my community at home and in college. I could not have asked for a better program than Yahel gave me this summer. It was sometimes bumpy, but that is expected from a pilot program.
Try to keep this program running. I think we’ll all be amazed at the difference we can make in Hadar. Maybe we can’t really change the whole socioeconomic situation and make all the Russian immigrants speak English and save every at-risk child. But we can change the paths of individuals we meet. We can change the vibe of Hadar. We do what we can. And they change us for the better too. What I’ve learned I’ll keep with me forever. And (hopefully) my impact there will resonate for a while as well.
Filed under: community, Home, Immersion, Impact, Israel, life-changing, Living abroad, Social Change | Tags: Big questions, Community, Home, Initiative, Israel, Jewish diversity, Learning, Living abroad, Volunteer, Yahel Social Change Program | No Comments »
I have two weeks left in Israel. This would seem like the time one would naturally begin to partake in the process known as ‘reflection.’ But there is something about this that does not sit right with me. When we ‘reflect,’ we are essentially ‘looking back.’ We look back at the things we did, the people we met, the lessons we learned. But here is where my problem resonates, if we are always looking back, how can we effectively move forward?
I know that my philosophy may seem ridiculous, because it is essential that we look back on and recount our experiences in order to give those experiences meaning. But my issue resonates in the idea that too often, the lessons we learned simply stop there, and those experiences and relationships become nothing more than nostalgia. What I’m saying is, we need to fight this urge to let the past simply become the past, and not part of our future. We need to carry the lessons of our experience forward, utilizing them in every practical way possible. Our experiences in Gedera were nothing short of eye opening and insightful, but they will mean nothing if they only remain fanciful stories we tell our kids one day.
Filed under: community, Diversity, Empowerment, friendship, Home, Immersion, Impact, life-changing, Living abroad, Social Change | Tags: Community, Friendship, Home, Israel, Jewish diversity, Volunteer, Yahel Social Change Program | No Comments »
When I was walking to the grocery store this morning, I heard Or (a three year old girl) call my name as she got a running start to jump in my arms. She said with a smile “Hello, Lisa, Good morning!!”
Or is the same little girl who didn’t speak a word of English four months ago.
As I think about how my time here is winding down, I am acutely aware of each of these moments. I want to hold them inside and remember the sound of Or’s voice and the feel of her kiss on my cheek, remember each “What’s up” from Ebay (a 16 year old boy who I work with in a weekly youth group), or the time I sing Beyonce songs with Orit and Alemnat (two 14 year old girls in the neighborhood).
I want to soak it all in.
The thought of leaving brings up emotions I never thought I would feel after such a short amount of time, but it makes sense. It makes sense because from day one, the people in the Shapira neighborhood have welcomed me with open arms and warm smiles.
The Yahel Social Change Program is a five-month immersive service learning experience that is very unique in nature, because we actually live among the community in which we work. That means that we spend time and build relationships with Ethiopian Israelis who are our age because they are our neighbors, and our friends. We go to the same grocery store, have the same community activities and celebrate holidays together with the kids we teach in the local schools. We can’t walk to a restaurant without running into our host families, or friends from the Gar’in. As we walk through the neighborhood, our names are called by kids running from 300 feet away, asking us to come play with them outside.
The Yahel volunteers become a part of the community, and in return, the community becomes a part of us, a part of Yahel.
Learning about and creating social change has to start somewhere. Yahel is where it started for me. In one month I will leave this community with not only deeper relationships, but with a deeper appreciation for and a deeper commitment to social change, for the rest of my life.
Filed under: community, Empowerment, friendship, Home, Immersion, Impact, Initiative, Israel & Israelis, life-changing, Living abroad, Social Change, Uncategorized, volunteering | Tags: Big questions, Community, Friendship, Home, Initiative, Israel, Jewish diversity, Learning, Living abroad, Volunteer, Yahel Social Change Program | 1 Comment »
A year ago, I never saw myself here doing what I am doing today. I pretty much “fell into” this program. As I sat in the living room of my parents house I felt like I was on the verge of becoming a complete failure. I had just graduated from college with no steady job waiting or Ivy League graduate programs begging me to apply. I was a 22 year old girl with a Bachelors degree and more then a few grandiose plans. I had my heart set on going to India. Another plan, which in the end did not work out. So, two weeks before arriving in Ben Gurion Airport, I followed the suggestion of a man I never met and applied to Yahel- Israel Service Learning. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I would soon find out that the way I had been defining failure for myself was wrong. In fact, many of my definitions and self assured habits were about to be turned upside down.
When I first arrived here I couldn’t help but feel like the same failure who sat on my parents couch weeks before. I was frustrated and disappointed in myself when I sat alone for hours at the local school waiting for teachers to remember to send me students to tutor. Or when working on a program building session with five other opinionated and strong minded volunteers we would end for the day with no resolution. And there was one consistent thought I could not get out of my head, can we possibly be so high and mighty that we come into people’s lives for such a short amount of time and actually believe we can make a difference?
I read an article that was passed around the participants and staff of Yahel. Reading this helped to make sense of the feelings I was experiencing. The article made me feel like I wasn’t alone, and more importantly what I have chosen to devote a year of my life to was important. I realized success and failure have nothing to do with this program or this year. I’m not here to pitch an idea or sell a product. I had said it over and over to myself “I’m here to grow” but, just recently I realized I haven’t been open to the biggest part of me that needs growth – that side of me that demands tangible change.
Read the rest of this entry »