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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, guest post, Immersion, Impact, Israel, Israel & Israelis, Living abroad, Uncategorized, volunteering | Tags: Community, Initiative, Israel, Learning, Living abroad, Teens | No Comments »
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!
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, 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: community, Community Garden, Diversity, Ethiopian Jews, Food, friendship, Immersion, Impact, Initiative, Israel & Israelis, life-changing, seeds, Social Change, sowing seeds, volunteering | Tags: Community, Ethiopian, Friendship, Gardening, Home, Israel, Israeli food, Learning, Living abroad, teach a man to fish, Volunteer, Yahel Social Change Program | No Comments »
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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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: 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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