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: 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"
Filed under: community, Diversity, Empowerment, friendship, Home, Immersion, Impact, life-changing, Living abroad, Social Change | Tags: Community, Friendship, Home, Israel, Jewish diversity, Volunteer, Yahel Social Change Program | No Comments »
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: 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, Diversity, Ethiopian Jews, friendship, Hiking, Immersion, Israel & Israelis, Living abroad, Teens and kids, volunteering | Tags: Community, Ethiopian, Friendship, Hiking, Israel, Israeli food, Teens, Volunteer, Yahel Social Change Program | No Comments »
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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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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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.