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: Food, Home, Israel, Israel & Israelis, student, volunteering | No Comments »
After meeting in Jerusalem in the pouring rain, we finally arrived in Rishon Lezion today! We spent the morning traveling first from Jerusalem to one of our staff members, Racheli’s home, in Carmi Yosef. We spent a couple hours here playing different ice breakers to get to know the group better, ate lunch, and learned more about the trip. From here, we traveled to see an overview of her town and saw various cities from the top of the hill. After this, we finally arrived at our destination in Rishon! We have an awesome apartment as our “home base” where we will spend time learning and having most of our meals here. Once we got here, after fighting the rain, we did some more beginning of the trip activities. After having a delicious Israeli dinner, the spiritual leader, the Kess, of the Ethiopian community in Ramat Eliyahu (the neighborhood of Rishon we are in) came and talked to us about his role in the community. It was very insightful to see how important and respectful the Kess was and to hear his story. Towards the end of the night, everyone went around and shared their highs and lows of the days. Finally, each family came to pick us up and take us to our home-stays for the next 10 days! We must catch some sleep now, so we are ready for our busy day tomorrow of painting a bomb shelter and hearing from the director of Friends by Nature, the local NGO Yahel works with here. More posts and pictures to come!
Filed under: community, Immersion, Impact, Israel & Israelis, life-changing, Living abroad, sowing seeds, student, teacher, Teens and kids, volunteering | Tags: Big questions, Community, ESL, Home, Israel, Learning, Teaching, Teaching English, Teens, Tutoring, Volunteer, Yahel Social Change Program | No Comments »
We are two days away from marking our third month in Israel. And while we are by no means nearing the end of our adventure here, like so many others in my house, I have begun to contemplate the next steps I will take when my time with Yahel comes to a close. My passion, for the last four years of college study, and a greater part of my adult life, has resided in working with children. This passion played a major role in my decision to come to Israel with Yahel, since I would be afforded the opportunity to work in a local elementary school. I am no stranger to working in a classroom, but none the less, I know that things operate differently in different countries, and braced myself accordingly. What I have discovered, is a surprise none the less.
Our experience has actually been quite unique. We work side-by-side with two different teachers, each with their own unique style. When we say, ‘kids will be kids,’ we all know that accounts for a certain level of leeway, be it their understanding of the world, or in this case, their level of mischievousness. Apparently, Israeli kids are notorious for being rambunctious.
One of the women we work with, Oshrit, is probably no different than any other EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher. She was educated in the Israeli school system, and mastered her English abilities while attending University in England. Yet, despite the chaos I observed in the school yard, and heard in the halls, I observed a classroom of quiet, respectful students. Was it simply this handful of students? My theory was proven false upon observing all of her subsequent classes behaving in the same manner. I decided I needed to know her secret, and I asked just that, to which I received the response ‘You cannot let them misbehave like they do outside or in their other classes. If a student does not want to listen, or do his work, I call his parents and make sure they know about it.’ This answer though, did not have me convinced. My own experience and knowledge had shown that authoritarian rule over the classroom always ended in failure. But then I noticed something that made everything clear to me. While walking down the hall, we came upon two young boys getting into a pretty heated argument. At this point, Oshrit intervened, and she and one of the boys began a heated conversation of their own. Voices continued to rise, up until Oshrit’s became the dominant of the two and what had started as an argument soon became a lecture. The entire conversation took place in Hebrew, so of course I understood only a few words, but the context was clear. What followed next totally took me by surprise. Oshrit’s voice went from rigid, to soft and comforting. She said a few more words (that I did not understand) then took the boys face in her hands, and gave him a kiss on the forehead. It was suddenly clear to me, why her kids behaved in the manner that they did. It wasn’t out of fear, but respect. It was clear that they identified Oshrit as a figure not to be messed with, but also as someone they could rely on, someone who they could trust to be fair.
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Filed under: community, Empowerment, Ethiopian Jews, Home, Immersion, Impact, life-changing, Social Change, student, teacher, Teens and kids, volunteering | Tags: Community, Ethiopian, Home, Initiative, Israel, Jewish diversity, Learning, teach a man to fish, Tutoring, Volunteer, Yahel Social Change Program | No Comments »
Justin and the Yahelnikim doing group activities with other Friends by Nature staff members
: to impart knowledge or skill in.
When I began teaching here in Gedera, I thought I would be helping my students learn English. The major mistake in that assumption is that “Teach” and “Learn” are totally different. Knowledge imparted is not congruous with knowledge received.
We have a program called “Shabab” which essentially means, “Homework at Home”, where I have been going into a seventh-grade boy’s home and helping him with his English for almost two months now. I can remember the first time I walked into his apartment and sat down in an environment that had me confused as to how to spell “cat” and “dog”. We sat on the couch with the TV on playing music videos. The father was sitting next to us with a screaming baby in his arms. We crouched over to work on a knee high Coffee table. Making it even more difficult was the fact that my student knew almost no English. How was I going to teach English in this environment?
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Filed under: Empowerment, Ethiopian Jews, Initiative, Jewish Learning, Social Change, student, teacher, volunteering | 1 Comment »
We have now been in Israel for just about four weeks and being that this is only our first group entry, it would be nearly impossible to summarize everything that we have done. So I won’t. We all came here from different backgrounds, with different expectations, and different goals, so I will try not to speak in generalizations. Having said that, let me generalize that we all came here to teach in some shape or form. These first few weeks however, we have been nothing more than students in every aspect of our lives. Learning about everything from lay of the land, to the values and history that lie beneath it. The customs, traditions, and sense of pride. Everything from the food to the handshake. The language to the religion.
Through discussions, seminars, and interactions, I quickly realized that being an effective teacher starts with being an attentive student. I would not have been able to sit down with anyone in the community or at the schools if I had no understanding of the cultural values and differences. The past few weeks have given me a better understanding of the importance in delving beneath the surface. Anyone can look at me and see a White Jewish boy from New York and draw any conclusion they want from that, as unfair as that may be. Unfortunately, conclusions are drawn from surface deep evaluations and as I have learned in this short period of time, Ethiopians take a hit from these hasty character generalizations. When I tell people from outside of the community what I am doing here in Israel, they chuckle and think that I am crazy. They think I am wasting my time teaching in a neighborhood like this, but that is only because they don’t want to “waste their time” learning about a rich and storied culture.
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