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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: 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.
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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.
Filed under: Empowerment, guest post, Impact, Israel, Jewish holiday, Jewish Learning, Jewish Text, Living abroad, Social Change, Uncategorized | No Comments »
Life in Israel is by no means simple and my engagement in this country is layered with ever expanding layers of complexity. Living here, I consider what is Israel to me? On Hanuka what is the light I wish to transmit to the world?
My teacher Noam Zion tells a story of his father, Rabbi Moses Sachs, who represented the Conservative Movement and travelled to Birmingham, Alabama, USA in 1963 to march with protesters from the civil rights movement among them Martin Luther King. Rabbi Sachs approached a woman in the street selling pins that read: ‘I believe in human dignity’. He asked her: “Can I buy a pin?” She responded: “Do you believe in human dignity?” He came back: “Well, I am not sure”.
When we light the Hanukia we are fulfilling the Mitzva, commandment of sharing the light of Hanuka. Hanuka is a public festival and as such many of the Hanuka lights lit around the world look out into the public sphere. The story of Rabbi Zion contemplating the purchase of a badge, demonstrates the necessity of carefully choosing which message we decide to send out into the world. Placing a Hanukia on your windowsill is the transmission of a message. What is the message?
Hanuka is the story of religious freedom. The story is of the Macabees defeating the Greeks in armed struggle and retaking the holy Temple to resume Jewish ritual worship. Mattathias Macabee is the archetypal strong Jew, upon whose image modern Zionism has reestablished the festival of Hanuka as a festival for Israel and its achievement of independence. The image becomes one of Jewish strength and victory.
But between the flickering shades of color encapsulated in the flame of the Hanukah light there is another message – one of the belief in religious freedom and practice, one of human dignity and power of the human spirit. Inside the word Macabee, the Hebrew letters mem, caff, bet, yud, spell out the first letters from the verse from Exodus: ‘mi camocha, ba’’aylim, Adonai’, ’Who is like you, God, among the mighty?’ Within the very fabric of our festival of human strength and self-accomplishment is an underlying message of the spirit of humanity.
It is upon all of us to decide which message we choose to send out into the world. My hope is that in these dark months of the year, the Hanuka light reinvigorates us all in our work, both in Israel and abroad. There are many struggles to be fought whether against discrimination, intolerance and racism or against poverty and social injustice or against a consumer culture which cares not for the world and our precious environment. We get to decide which struggle to engage in. It is not upon us to finish the job but it is upon us to make a start.
David Hartman says that the miracle of Hanuka was not in the oil that lasted eight days but that the Jews of the Temple lit the lamp at all when they knew not if the light would stay alight.
Let us light Hanukiot this year in all corners of the world. Let us each decide the meaning of the light we bring to the world and let us follow up with words and with actions and who knows where it might lead.
Dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Moses Sachs (ז”ל) and with eternal thanks to his son, my teacher Noam Zion.
Oliver Joseph is a Ziegler rabbinical student living and studying in Israel. He is a graduate from the Shalom Hartman Institute and is currently completing his masters at the Tel Aviv University while studying at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
Originally from the UK he grew up in NOAM and the Masorti Movement. During his time in Israel Oliver has been active with Encounter, an organisation which brings Jewish community leaders to meet with Palestinians in the West Bank.
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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, 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.
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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 »
Filed under: community, Community Garden, Diversity, Ethiopian Jews, friendship, Israel & Israelis, Jewish holiday, Social Change, sowing seeds, volunteering | Tags: Community, Ethiopian, Friendship, Fundraising, Gardening, Home, Initiative, Israeli food, Jewish diversity, Learning, Living abroad, Volunteer, Yahel Social Change Program | No Comments »
We have been in Gedera for almost four months now, working in different areas and on different projects. We have become acclimated with our everyday schedules and have a greater understanding of our new home. This week, however, marked a new chapter for us as we embarked on our very own project here in Gedera. After months of observations and meetings with community members and the like, we decided that contributing to the already existing community garden would be most beneficial. Our idea was to set up weekly activities in the garden that would provide the youth with structured activities and also encourage integration.
We decided that there would be no better way to kickoff our weekly event then throwing a Hanukah party in the garden on the first night of Hanukah. We had two arts and crafts projects, a seedling seminar, fresh pita cooking, Hannukah sing-a-long, homemade menorah for candle lighting, and Sufganyot (Hanukah Doughnuts). Everything was set up for a great evening; the only thing left to worry about was the turnout.
Garden party: Justin lighting the menorah for the first night of Hannukah
We had spent so much time preparing this event and coincidentally another Masa program, Eco Israel, just so happened to be joining us on that day to see what Yahel was all about. We spent the morning talking to them and showing them around our neighborhood; Eating Ethiopian food and sharing laughs. We tried to make them feel as comfortable as possible but lingering in the back of all of our minds, we knew we had to have a successful afternoon.
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