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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 Garden, Diversity, Ethiopian Jews, friendship, Immersion, Impact, Initiative, Israel, Jewish Learning, sowing seeds, volunteering | Tags: Community, Friendship, Gardening, Jewish diversity, Learning, Volunteer | No Comments »
The group is having a great time in Israel!
Since the last update the group has been busy filling their days with an incredible mix of work, fun and learning. Last week saw the first day of the work project in Yavne get its start. The group was split between making raised palette beds for planting, breaking wood down for the beds, putting in an irrigation system and weeding the area around the community center.
Over this past weekend the group had a relaxing Shabbat at the Hava v’Adam farm outside of Modi’in. The teens got a tour of the farm the first day they were there and were “amazed” by what can grow in the harsh summer climate in Israel. The group celebrated Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday night and planned their own teen-led service on Saturday morning. The teens got into teams and cooked all of their own meals over the weekend.
After leaving the farm the group had a day with Rabbi Yonatan Neril of Jewish Eco Seminars. Rabbi Neril was a former Tawonga staff and camper himself who has made aliyah to Israel and founded this organization. He taught the group about the ecological history of Israel and took them into some caves for hiking and exploring to connect, a few photos of the group’s day with Jewish Eco Seminars are on their Facebook page here. A fact that the group learned is that Israel is the only country in the world that now has more trees than when it was founded!
The group is now back on the work project all week in Yavne and the weekend clearly revitalized them because they had a “very strong work day” according to all the staff. They finished the first planting bed for the garden and are learning lots of skills with woodworking and construction tasks. The group also spent part of the day meeting their host families from Yavne who they will stay with this Friday night and doing a weaving activity with seniors from the community and finished the day off with a pool party with the Yavne teens.
Today the group has a partial work day and then a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum outside of Jerusalem for should be a moving, solemn and informative visit. The rest of the week is on the worksite and with the community in Yavne before the homestays over Shabbat.
We’ll continue to update you on the group’s progress, they are having a wonderful time and the impact of the trip is really beginning to sink in for all of them.
Follow the group and view more pictures on Yahel’s Facebook Page.
Filed under: community, Diversity, friendship, Hiking, Immersion, Impact, Initiative, Israel, Jewish Learning, Living abroad, volunteering | Tags: Community, Hiking, Israel, Jewish diversity, Learning, Living abroad, Volunteer | No Comments »
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!
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.
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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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Filed under: Beit Midrash, community, Immersion, Impact, Jewish Learning, Jewish Text, life-changing, stereotypes, volunteering | Tags: Big questions, Community, Israel, Jewish, Jewish diversity, Jewish text, Judaism, Learning, Volunteer, Yahel Social Change Program | No Comments »
Every Thursday between 9:30 am and 11:30 am, you can find the Yahelnikim sitting around a table in the Shapira neighborhood with a Rabbi.
“But I thought this wasn’t a religious program?” “He is just trying to make you more religious so you will move to Israel.”
These are two responses I have gotten when I explain our weekly Beit Midrash (Jewish Text Study). To these questions I say: It isn’t particularly religious and by engaging in Jewish text study, he isn’t trying to convince us to move to Israel.
Even before I met our Rabbi, I loved the idea of Beit Midrash. I wanted to explore the work I am doing in a Jewish context and each of us are, after all, Jewish. And, even if we aren’t religious, we did choose to come to Israel – not Kenya, Zimbabwe or Harlem.
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Filed under: community, Home, Immersion, Israel & Israelis, life-changing, Living abroad, volunteering | Tags: Community, Friendship, Israel, Jewish diversity, Living abroad, Volunteer, Yahel Social Change Program | 1 Comment »
Together, the Yahelnikim and our fearless leaders have been exploring more of the country. This past week we traveled to Hava v’ Adam, a sustainable eco farm. There, we met up with another Masa program, Eco Israel, and learned more about living sustainably and how to leave the least human imprint on our environment. They turned everyday conventional living into something useful.
The landscape in Israel is always changing. For such a small country, in a matter of hours you can swim in the cool fresh waters of the Kinneret surrounded by lush green hills and then travel south while you gradually watch the earth fade from green to the beige sand. Just like people, Israel changes with her moods. During the rainy season, which we are entering, green starts to patch the usual grey areas of the land – surprising and bemusing the eye. Israel’s weather changes in the matter of an instant and can quickly warm your skin or chill you to the bone. With Yahel we have been experiencing the land. A part of our time here is spent connecting to the land as well as the people. Sometimes my mood coincides with Israel, the rain brings a calm to my day and fresh air to our home. Other times we aren’t on the same page, she is happy and shinning while I feel like curling up in a blanket and staying inside. We always seem to resolve our differences and I cherish the moments I am able to stand alone and look out onto this amazing country.
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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