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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, Diversity, Ethiopian Jews, Food, friendship, guest post, Impact, Israel, Israel & Israelis, Jewish Learning, Kibbutz, Teens and kids, Uncategorized, volunteering | Tags: Community, Ethiopian, Friendship, Home, Israel, Teens, Volunteer | No Comments »
Aaron Mandel, Assistant Director of Teen Programs for Camp Tawonga, wrote a trip update on the first few days of the Teen Service Learning trip with Yahel in Israel.
The group has now been in Israel for over three full days and things are off to a great start! Upon arrival in the late afternoon, the group met Inbal, the Israeli staff from Yahel Israel who will be with the group throughout the trip and went to a promenade that overlooks Jerusalem for the first full group meeting and discussion in Israel. Dinner at their hotel that night overlooked the old city of Jerusalem. The group did a geography activity and got to bed early after the long day of travel.
The next day the group toured through Jerusalem including the Jewish quarter of the old city and a visit to the Western Wall which was very special for the teens. The group also toured the City of David and got a lot of rooftop views of the city. Their guide taught them a lot about the significance of Jerusalem for many different peoples. For lunch this day the teens were all given their own allotment of shekels and allowed to choose from a few different restaurants to sample the local cuisines. After wrapping up in Jerusalem the group headed to their home base for the next two weeks outside of Yavne and settled in. After dinner they had a session on “culture as an iceberg” to prep for their meetings with the community the following day.
Yesterday the group spent the whole day getting to know the community, teens and key players in Yavne, the site of our service project. They visited a resource center for Ethiopian Israeli families and met many people from government agencies and the Friends by Nature NGO we are working with. The group also spent the afternoon and early evening getting to know the group of Ethiopian teens who will be with them throughout the time in Yavne. Group get-to-know-you games and a BBQ dinner closed out the day and the staff all report that it was really inspiring and special to see the connections starting to be formed.
The work project begins today and over the weekend the group goes on a weekend Shabbat retreat to an ecological educational farm. Everyone is soaking in all the new sights and sounds and having a great time!
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It’s been an interesting and busy first three weeks for the Yahel Onward Israel program here in Haifa! During the first week the participants started to get their feet wet, learning about the Hadar neighborhood, its history, layout, population, and even nightlife. However, it didn’t take the group too long before they dove right in to the neighborhood, making trips to the market, getting themselves lost in the area only to discover new places, and befriending the neighbors (most of whom comprise activist communities that have purposefully moved to Hadar in order to create change in the neighborhood). The week culminated in a peaceful Shabbat together, including a group Kabbalat Shabbat, dinner with host families from the Garin Torani (a religious group of social activists located in Hadar), and a trip to the beach.
After a busy orientation week, the participants continued to deepen their understanding of Hadar and of Israeli society by meeting with local activists and speakers on a variety of topics, including the Russian-speaking population in Israel and the summer social protests, as well as through group sessions on community, connection to Israel and charity and justice. Alongside a fairly intensive learning process, the participants began a group mural project, together with American collaborative artist Diana Gilon. The mural, designed and created by the participants themselves, showcased Hadar as a blossoming community, with deep roots and the potential for a positive and vibrant future. It was painted in a central underpass that, a few years ago, was reclaimed and renovated as a community-led, grassroots initiative. The group is privileged and proud to leave their mark on Hadar, both through the mural which will be displayed for the next two months, as well as on canvases, which will be permanently displayed in a neighborhood community center.
The group also had the chance to meet up with other Onward Israel participants from around the country in a three-day seminar dedicated to discussing participants’ connections to the Jewish people and to Jewish heritage. Though the group was a bit hesitant about leaving Hadar, as they had just started to feel at home there, they were happy to have the opportunity to dedicate time to these important subjects so central to their experience here this summer, and excited to discuss these subjects with new friends from the other programs. Especially interesting for the group members was a dramatic performance by Robbie Gringras, presenting stories and experiences surrounding Israeli society combined with the immigrant experience, through both monologue and song. The participants appreciated his candor and connected well with the artistic medium. All in all, they left the seminar with new friends, new perspectives and, most importantly, new questions.
The arrival back in Hadar had a feeling of returning home for the participants, combined with excitement for the upcoming week, as the group finished the mural and opened it to the public, while also doing final preparations for their individual volunteer placements, which they began just three days ago. So far the placements are going quite well, and the participants are acclimating nicely to the new cultures, new norms, new languages and new faces. They are all looking forward to our trip to the Negev this weekend, in which they will be examining various perspectives of development of the desert, will set out on a moonlit hike, and will certainly enjoy the dry heat, as compared to their daily battle with the humidity in Haifa.
We’re all looking forward to a few more weeks of new experiences, learning and fun. More to come soon!
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This entry was originally posted on Molly’s personal blog, a participant on our Boston Onward Israel program in Haifa. For background purposes, Yahel is running a 6-week service-learning program in Haifa for 18 New-England-area students. Through direct service opportunities, participants will contribute to the Hadar neighborhood by volunteering alongside local Israel activists. In addition to group volunteer projects, each participant is assigned an individual placement where they will volunteer 4 days a week for the next 3 weeks.
Today, my group of 5 people got to talk to the camp director about our individual placement at the summer camp. What she told us was really interesting and made me super excited for the session to begin. She told us that the kids at the camp (4th-6th graders) are hand-picked by social workers, teachers, counselors, etc. to come to this camp. They are kids with a lot of problems at home; many have extremely low-income families, 60% live with only their mother, and they are all sent to this camp to have some older mentors to talk to, look up to, and just to hang out with while their parents are at work.
The camp is only 400 shekels for 3 weeks (that’s about 100$), and not all of them can even pay that. She said that the kids are the children one step below being removed from their homes by child services. Many of them don’t get fed at home, have nobody looking after them all day, and are exposed to things like alcoholism, drugs, and prostitution in the neighborhood because of the lack of care for them. Therefore, they come to this camp to be occupied and have counselors to talk to about their lives.
It seems like a big responsibility to have, especially since I can’t really talk to these kids. However, the schedule looks AWESOME. Every day we are doing something fun. We get to pick one “enrichment group” to be in (I want to do either arts and crafts or movement/dance). There is also one day each week when we go hiking, to the pool, and have a fun themed day with different activities that we get to plan. The theme of the summer is spies/secret agents/inspector gadget, or something like that, so all of the themed days also have costumes and fun games to go along with that theme. They also asked us to come up with a 5 minute shpiel every morning to teach a little bit of English that goes along with the day’s activities, through a song or skit or something like that.
I could not be happier with my placement. This is exactly what I do at camp, but with kids I can speak to. That is definitely what I am most nervous for. I don’t know how I will be able to connect with the kids if I can’t speak to them. But I know my Hebrew will improve a ton from this, and it will be a great learning experience with a lot of challenges. In a few hours we are going to meet them for the first time for just a few minutes. I’m nervous, but excited too! I also have the best group ever. It is 4 really great people from my group who I think will work well together. Wish me luck!
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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: Diversity, Ethiopian Jews, Israel, racism | Tags: Big questions, Ethiopian, Israel, racism, Yahel Social Change Program | No Comments »
Last night, a few of the current Yahelnikim and Yahel alumni joined some of our friends from Gedera at a protest in the city of Kiryat Malachi. The protest was in reaction to a news segment aired in Israel that showed members of the Kiryat Malachi community coming together to sign housing agreements that barred any renting of apartments to Israelis of Ethiopian descent. If this wasn’t bad enough, some Israeli students went undercover to try to rent an
apartment in this area, and the man renting them assured them there would be “no roaches” there – he was referring to Ethiopian Israelis. One resident came on camera saying that the “only good Ethiopian was one in the grave.” I watched this segment with the Yahelnikim and one of our friends from the neighborhood who is of Ethiopian descent. I tried not to cry, and failed. He walked away for a few minutes, and we all had our own reactions. He said he knew this type of racism existed, but to see it and hear it was jarring, although he wasn’t sure why. For me, I know why I was emotional. I was embarrassed. Mortified, really. Mortified for every Jewish person who believes that all Jews are one people and we have a responsibility to protect one another. We have failed one another and, I believe, our ancestors and our generation have the responsibility to fix this.
Jews have been discriminated against for thousands of years. My grandmother and grandfather were in labor camps and survived the Shoah. They saw their families murdered for being Jewish. Never should Jews be spewing this kind of hatred against anyone- especially our own brothers and sisters. Israel is the home for all Jews- there should be no conditions. This has been a lesson for me in how to channel my own anger into something positive and productive to make a difference. To do my part to ensure that this is the last generation of any immigrants to feel unwelcome in their home, in all of our home, Israel.
The first step was to participate in the protests here in Israel. What will come next, I am still figuring that out but I am thankful to Yahel and all of its supporters, my fellow Yahelnikim and my friends in Gedera, for being on this journey with me to create and spark social change, and for allowing me to be on theirs.
T-Shirts say "The value of a man is not the same as the value of an apartment"
"I'm a woman, I'm Jewish, I'm Ethiopian... deal with it!"
"Our blood is good only for wars?"
"You should love your neighbor as yourself, even if he doesn't look like you"
"This is the time to fight for our future"
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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.
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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.
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In the last 10 months I have had the good fortune of doing community gardening work in several different contexts. I have worked in community gardens in a predominantly Ethiopian Israeli immigrant neighborhood, another one that is open to everybody in the town of Gedera, and one at an Ethiopian new-immigrant absorption center in Beer Sheva.
Each of the gardens are beautiful in their own way. In addition to producing food, the gardens serve as places for talking, laughing and learning. In the buildings in the Shapira neighborhood, the immigrants came from different regions of Ethiopia at different times, and some speak different languages from one another. The majority of the adults speak Amharic as their mother language, but some only know Tigrinya (a language spoken in northeastern Ethiopia). In addition, about 5% of the neighborhood is made up of non-Ethiopian Israelis from the former USSR, Morocco, Yemen and other places. Most of the Ethiopian immigrants in the neighborhood lived in villages in the mountains of northern Ethiopia, lacking running water and electricity. Some villages were only Jewish, while others were comprised Christians and/or Muslims as well. However, the people lived separately based on their religions. The villagers grew their own food, made their own clothing and homes, and the lifestyle moved at a slow pace.
Now in Gedera (and towns and cities all over Israel), the Ethiopian Israelis are living in buildings in an industrialized, fast moving country. The community gardens under the buildings provide adults an opportunity to grow their own food as well as flowers and plants for aesthetic purposes. In addition, they provide adults with opportunities to work together with their neighbors (Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian) and form relationships and teach their kids about gardening, connecting them with their heritage. The gardens also serve as a source of empowerment. Many adults in the neighborhood are unemployed or work low income jobs and the community garden provides them with the opportunity to work and bring food to their families.
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This morning I woke up early for the Hanukkah tiyul (camping trip) training session. Lisa and I got dressed and then headed for the local bakery around 7:45 am. It’s less than a three minute walk from our house, and whenever you pass by, the most enticingly delicious smell hits your nose. It’s almost impossible to resist going in when walking by, and I hardly ever attempt to resist. Lisa and I go in to find the place packed with people. It’s Friday morning and everyone wants to get the tastiest burekas (essentially flakey pastries filled with a variety of either savory or sweet goodness) in town before Shabbat. Lisa and I joke about buying two of each bureka because they are all fresh out of the oven and still steaming. We load sweet and savory treats into our bag while we attempt to keep our place in line, because the line is practically out of the door. I pay no more than a dollar for my five burekas: two potato, two mushroom & onion, and one chocolate croissant. After Lisa pays for her food, handling the line and Hebrew like a veteran Israeli, we head over to the meeting place for our tiyul.
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