Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Monday, December 12, 2011
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Monday, November 7, 2011
On a Sunday night, two other Tikkun Olam participants and I opted out of a night of clubbing (which in Tel Aviv is no easy task) to attend the public gathering in the vast outdoor courtyard of the Tel Aviv Museum. Upon arrival, we were met with an unusual sight. Tables of Israelis, stretching as far as the eye could see, were arranged in a manner I’ve only ever seen before at large organized (and often expensive) conferences or benefits — never in a public arena open to anyone, regardless of his or her social status.
Strangers, or near strangers, eight or nine to a group, were gathered around each table, respectfully discussing the social and economic reforms they hope for and expect to work toward in their daily lives.
Read the whole article here.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Sentada en un cafe en una de las calles mas bonitas de Tel Aviv (Rothchild y Allenby), pensando en lo que ha pasado en los últimos días... Ha sido un momento en el cual me he acostumbrado mas a la vida de Israel. Entonces, sentada viendo a la gente pasar, decido escribir un poco sobre lo que me ha pasado, aunque no ha sido mucho...
En estos días todo ha estado muy tranquilo. En Israel, durante las fiestas, muchas cosas dejan de funcionar. La gente se va de vacaciones, mucha gente no trabaja, las escuelas están cerradas y hay un aura de relajamiento total. Para mi, estos últimos días, me han servido para acostumbrarme mas a la vida Israelí. Me siento mas "en casa".
Algo muy especial me pasó ayer cuando fui a un entrenamiento de fútbol del equipo Maccabi Holon. En Israel, la liga de mujeres es competitiva. Muchas de las integrantes del equipo juegan en el equipo nacional de Israel. Tener la experiencia de jugar fútbol en Israel, durante mi estancia en este maravilloso lugar, ¡es increible! Por fin pude encontrar un lugar donde puedo desconectarme de la vida diaria y tener un tiempo y espacio para mi. El equipo es muy bueno y me recibieron muy bien. Estaba muy nerviosa antes del entrenamiento pero cuando empecé a jugar se me quitaron los nervios y solo disfruté el deporte. Los partidos empiezan en Noviembre. ¡Estoy muy emocionada!
También ya tomé la decisión de donde ir a hacer el trabajo voluntario. Me voy a quedar con Omanoot, la escuela Amal e Ironi Z. Todavía puedo cambiar los lugares, pero por ahora voy a ver si puedo quedarme en estos. Ironi Z empieza hasta Noviembre, Omanoot empieza ahora y Amal ya empezó. No he hecho mucho, en cuanto haga mas cosas en estos lugares voy a contarles mas...
Me estoy llevando muy bien con mis compañeros. No hemos tenido mucho drama y salimos mucho todos juntos a tomar una copa o un cafe. Nos ayudamos unos a otros y compartimos pensamientos sobre los lugares donde vamos a trabajar. También nos estamos viendo en nuestras clases que son muy interesantes. La clase de Arabes en Israel es la que mas me gusta. El profesor es un genio. Esta semana aprendimos sobre la manera en la que el Islam ve al Oeste y la manera en la que rechazan muchos de los conceptos, por ejemplo derechos de las mujeres. La manera en la que piensan ellos es muy diferente, no es malo, ni bueno, solamente diferente. A mi me encantaría que las mujeres tengan derechos como los hombres en todas partes del mundo, pero la religión y las tradiciones que ellos han tenido no lo permite. Otra clase que hemos tenido es una clase para ayudarnos en nuestro trabajo voluntario. Una profesora de Inglés nos enseñó que se puede usar cualquier objeto para crear una clase. Por ejemplo, unas llaves comunes y corrientes se pueden usar para hacer una actividad en donde los niños hablen de la llave de su futuro, para que cuenten que es lo que harían con una llave que los lleve al futuro. También se pueden usar para describir la textura, el color, o para describir como y para que la usarían. Todo eso formaría parte de la clase de Inglés. Así hay muchos ejemplos donde podemos usar objetos normales y hacer actividades con eso. ¡Me encantó!
Por otro lado, la vida social va muy bien. Pasé el shabbat pasado con mi amiga Ale. Cenamos y fuimos a la playa al otro día. Después también fuimos a cenar con Yardena y Shaina. Estuvo buenísimo porque Yardena, Shaina, Ale y yo somos muy diferentes, pero la pasamos muy bien. Me encanta platicar con ellas. Son muy divertidas... Platicamos mucho sobre chicos y cosas asi. jajaja. También me estoy llevando muy bien con mi amigo Rafa. Vemos los partidos de fútbol Americano juntos y salimos a caminar o a comer, y siempre la paso muy bien con el. Le digo que es mi ángel de la guardia en Israel porque me ayuda en todo. También en Rosh Hashanah fui a casa de Amber y Mulan y su familia. A ellas las conozco de Miami, pero están visitando a sus padres que viven acá. Me encantó la cena, su familia es divina, y fue increíble platicar de la vida de Miami con gente que conozco de ahí. Me enseñaron música Israelí y estuvimos hablando todo el tiempo en Hebreo.
Hay un dicho en Inglés que dice, "The road of life has twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet, our lessons come from the journey, not the destination." - Don Williams Jr.
En este viaje en eso me estoy enfocando, mi aprendizaje esta viniendo de todo lo que hago en el camino a mi "destinación". Es como toda la vida, hay que tener metas y "destinaciones", pero no hay que olvidar todo lo que se aprende en el camino.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
I have finally started my volunteer shifts, and couldn't be happier. I started with Hagar and Miriam, a group that provides help to pregnant refugees and asylum seakers from Africa. We escort them to doctor appointments, make sure they know their rights, and provide follow up care. It's an amazing project, and I feel incredibly honored to be a part of it. I'm also volunteering at Holland House, a center for toddlers through preschool-aged kids with a range of disabilities. They are amazingly positive and make me smile everyday. Finally, Ironi Het, an all boys middle and high school for kids who have, until now, gone to strictly religious schools. For a variety of reasons, they decide they want a future that includes university, which requires passing the matriculation exam. These boys are incredibly behind on the basics due to such heavy study of religion, and Ironi Het works very hard to close the education gap and allow them to continue onto higher education. I'll be working with 11th and 12th graders on literature and poetry. Right now I'm having them look at Frost's "The Road Not Taken" and connect it to how they're traveling their own roads not taken by the other men in their family who have only studied at yeshivas.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Check out this story from the Zionist Federation of Australia on Tikkun Olam alumna Kelly Heideman, who recently finished the Social Justice track for the Spring 5-month program.
“You experience and learn from Israel first hand, explore your identity and really give back to those that need it. As well as having unthinkable amounts of fun with similar aged Jews from around the world and other Israelis!” she said.
Applications are now open for Spring 2012, so click here to apply and have unthinkable amounts of fun for yourself!
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Here's a tidbit of Vanessa's reflections on her experience in the Coexistence Track:
Most of the women and children that I worked with did not speak English, but this did not prevent us from connecting. With some time I formed friendships and an understanding with them that I will keep for the rest of my life. This is true coexistence, and this is what made my experience so rich and rewarding.
Read the whole blog here.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
I leave for Israel in one week! I've just begun packing and am struggling to pack/throw away/donate enough stuff to forge a clear path through my room. My two suitcases are already full and I've got a box of peanut butter and cliff bars that I'm shipping to my apartment. It's not that I don't like falafel- I hate it. I've got a lot of changes to get used to. Some I am a little more comfortable with, like observing the Sabbath and paying to use public restrooms. Some I am a little more resistant to, like hummus and living without Netflix.
I can't exactly figure out what emotions I'm feeling or where they're coming from. I'm so excited to have the opportunity to spend 5 months in Israel- explore the city of Tel Aviv, experience the High Holy Days in Jerusalem, relax on the beach of the Mediterranean, meet new people and reconnect with old friends.
I feel very blessed to have had such an incredible time on my Birthright trip that inspired me to go back and spend more time in Israel. The people I interacted with during my trip made my experience so special and I know that I can never express how much they impacted my life- although the fact that I'm choosing to go back should be some indication. I know that this trip will be unique. It will challenge and inspire me in different ways, but I know that I will carry the memories of my last trip with me. My first Shabbat at the Kotel will feel a little lonely without my Shmeks singing Kum Kum...
I am also nervous, although this emotion is one I'm trying very hard to suppress. The recent attacks have made me feel uneasy, despite being far away from them. My friends in Israel assure me that I will be safe and I have no doubt, but I am curious to see how the cultural climate of the country changes while I am there. Living in a country with a constant threat of terror is a foreign concept for me, although I can only hope that George W's color coded threat level system has adequately prepared me. What's orange in Hebrew?
I know very little about my program, even after spending hours on the phone with my program leaders. I will be volunteering in the neighborhood Kiryat Shalom. I will have the opportunity to pick where I volunteer, but the focus of my program is to work with refugees and children in this high needs neighborhood. In addition to volunteering, I will take Ulpan (intensive Hebrew classes) and different kinds of Jewish Identity workshops. I should have plenty of time to travel and explore, which is one of the reasons I chose Tikkun Olam over the other programs.
I am very excited to finally be in Israel and I think this week is going to crawl/fly by. It's incredible how time can be wonky like that. Unless anything really monumental occurs over the next week, I'll assume my next post will be from Israel. Oh my wow!
Sunday, September 4, 2011
This year's Tikkun Olam group is unique as it is the first and only MASA program group that includes Israeli participants, who join a group of peers from the U.S., Holland, Mexico, France, Hungary and Canada.
The program kicked off with an opening informational session at the Daniel Centers' Beit Daniel in north Tel Aviv, followed by a feast at Afloka restaurant overlooking the Mediterannean in Jaffa.
The next morning, the group set off for Kibbutz Ketura, near Eilat, for a 4-day orientation seminar, which included an introduction to the volunteering options, a short hike through the Kasui sand dunes, and a trip to Eilat to check out a small segment of the largest social protests in Israeli history, with, of course, a bit of time to cool off in the kibbutz swimming pool as well.
Tomorrow morning the gang returns to Tel Aviv-Jaffa to settle into their apartments, start their Hebrew classes and begin checking out potential volunteering locations.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
This past week has been very fulfilling for me! Last weekend the group traveled to the Negev Desert, where we set up sleeping bags under Bedouin tents, made pita from scratch, and learned to make poikey. That night I smoked hookah with two Bedouin muslims. One was 25 years old, named Solomon. I learned that he had 2 wives and 6 kids. His wives don’t like each other apparently, which he seemed okay with. They fight over me, he said with a subtle, satisfied smile. He’s a modern Bedouin, making money working at these tents made for tourists like me. He prays 5 times a day, but on his own time, none of that call-to-prayer tradition for him. And he probably does this in his Ed Hardy sweatshirt.
The next day we hiked Makhtesh Ramon Crater. For five hours. It was challenging, even difficult for most people, as there were steep inclines and scary descents on more than one occasion. I honestly loved it. I felt the burn for sure, but the result was worth it. The views were breathtaking, & the geological nature of the crater was mind blowing. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, but I can imagine this is what it would be like to hike through it. Except for the billion year old fossils of sea life you find along the way.
Volunteering has been really rewarding this week. Etgarim is fun, although a nerve racking experience. There’s not much instruction, it’s fair to say you’re left to find your way and figure it out as you go. It’s hard, for instance, to tell Ronnie, on his hybrid bike, to watch out for other people. I can’t remember how to say it in Hebrew when I’m feeling panicked. The other day I’m there I work with a different group of kids, including 8 year old, Hannah, who is autistic. She’s so sweet but she really doesn’t even communicate with words at all. Mostly I read her face, like her eyes, or her excitability level. I have brought one awesome skill with me to the table; my enthusiasm and energy. I cheer the kids on while we’re all en route, riding along the coast on bike paths, telling them “metsuyan!” or “tov me’od!” ("excellent!" or "very good!")Even though it’s scary to have their general safety in my hands, there are some things I guess you can just do on your own.
Mesila was fun last week for the toddlers. Melanie and I noticed these kids had like, NO toys. We took time to go shopping and brought some balloons. It was a huge hit. Since every kid was allowed a balloon, no one had to fight over who got to play with it first. Sharing is not an option for these kids... Another nice thing is that they’re slowly catching on to my routine song, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes.” They like the moves to that song anyway. It’s a very sad place. This one child kept begging to be held, over and over, and I finally realized he was pretty delirious, as in sick. I picked him up and he immediately fell asleep in my arms. He’s from Sudan or Areatrea, no more than 3 years old. His parents cannot afford to stay at home and take of the poor little guy. It’s a hard life for these kids. I can only go 2 hours a week according to this program, and it’s honestly not enough time for me, but it takes your EVERYTHING to be there, especially when there’s 20 other toddlers tugging at your clothes, wanting to play with you, and wanting to be held as well.
Omanoot is very cool so far, since my first assignment was to photograph a band at a cool venue called the Barbi Club. Next, more photos, as well as helping create a more visual look for their site, but all in due time.
The Blind Center has been really great. I started teaching a yoga class for senior citizens on Thursdays. It’s easier than I thought it would be, although one of the staff members had to take it too so she could translate everything for my "students." They are not only blind, they also barely speak English! This last Sunday they created a Purim party for all their members and volunteers. Not only did I set up food and drinks, but plated the food for members as well. Not usually a big deal, but I don’t know all the vocabulary yet for food, and I have to explain to them what the options are for them to eat! It was pretty funny. I was good at naming drinks at least. I'm noticing understanding Hebrew spoken back to me is also very difficult… Interesting situation! They really like me though (once again, energy goes a long way), and now some want me to teach them English. Love it!
Purim was insane here in Israel. Now, I have celebrated Halloween in the Castro in San Francisco, but I think even that comes to a close second on the party scale when it comes to Purim in Tel Aviv… I dressed up as a thought bubble. I wore all white, white long sleeve shirt, white skirt, white leggings, bought some bubbles, fabric markers, and walked around asking everyone to write their thoughts on me. It was creative and fun! Made for a great souvenir to bring home. Many of my friends and I started on Thursday night at an Etgarim dance party, which was really, really fun. Even little Ronnie was there, and we danced the night away. Friday during the day I went to a street party, then at night we went out to Florentine, the trendy, popular district within walking distance from our apartments. Then Saturday we just started all over again. Some of us went to the beach to hang for the day, and then came home to change back into costume and start the drinking again! Loving this holiday... On Sunday it was Ma’ayan’s birthday, so we all had a lovely pot luck dinner at our house, where I made Israeli salad and tabouleh for my first time. Everyone brought some amazing food, it was a feast and a great party.
I want to write more, but that is the last week in a nut shell, and I’m exhausted from running around. Keep your eyes on my Picassa for photos, and also on Facebook.
Missing everyone back home.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Parties. DJ's. Extravagant floats. Little to no clothing. A lot of sun. A fabulous beach party: this is how Tel Aviv celebrates Gay Pride.
|You know you would follow this float...|
|a few of my friends enjoying the parade|
The parade was absolutely amazing. I have never seen so many men dancing so fabulously in high heels. They need to give me some pointers on how to dance without falling on my face. The parade ended with the floats going one way and the crowd of people heading down to the beach. What would a parade be if it didn't end at a giant party on the beach? I don't hate it! After quickly changing into my bathing suit, I followed suit and jumped into the sea. Definitely the best way to cool off after being in the sun. After some time in the water, my friends Dante and Tiffany, decided that it was time to dance. Luckily Tiffany lives close to the beach and we made a pit stop at her apartment to drop off our belongings so we could dance care free. I have discovered that it is completely normal to walk around the streets of Tel Aviv wearing only a bathing suit. This city ceases to amaze me. With nothing to worry about, the three of us claimed a great spot on the "dance floor" and danced to the numerous performers that strutted across the stage. Let me just say that I have never been surrounded by so many beautiful men. Is it wrong that I wanted to be a gay man that day?
|beach party anyone?|
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Ventured to Sderot today. Got to see what it's like for students at Sapir College to study in bomb shelters while rockets from Gaza fall from the sky.
They joked around, a lively bunch. One girl commented that one time, when a siren went off, she ran to her nearby bomb shelter, but since she had been in the shower she showed up in just a towel, surrounded by cute guys and students she didn't know.
It was good to be on a college campus again, and these students live life to the fullest.
Who wants to live in fear anyway? I remember times that I told people I was traveling to volunteer in Israel, and they responded with, "Are you crazy? Aren't you scared??" And I always explained that I can't live life fearing the unknown. I could get hit by a car or bus in San Francisco any day of the week. If it's meant to be my time, it's meant to be.
That's what I appreciated about today. The students we spoke with had the same attitude. What's more, they had pride for the city of Sderot. This little city, with bomb shelters on every corner, playgrounds in bomb shelters, bus stops with bomb shelters. Qassams, or rockets, are kept at the local police station, hundreds of them stacked on these metal shelves like collector's items. Many are made out of pipes, car exhausts, or other random junk metal pieces, and you wonder what someone is thinking about when they’re creating rockets out of them… especially when they’re adding nails and other sharp objects to make a bigger impact when it falls on enemy land.
When rockets were flying back and forth between Sderot and Gaza a few years back, many people took their families and left. But many people stayed, feeling a sense of loyalty to this place, even at risk of trauma and death. That blows me away. Many times today I felt like I didn't understand this mentality - but when I think about it for a couple seconds, I can grasp some vague and strange concept of why. Maybe because I have been here for four months now and sometimes no longer feel like such a tourist??
Unfortunately for the students, there is no work in Sderot, so they're happy to go to school here, and they feel really strongly about the excellent education system at Sapir, but after graduation, it's time to find work elsewhere. One girl commented, if you want to help, sometimes you have to help yourself first. She wants to see Sderot developed just like any of the other students we spoke to.
From the top of one of the school buildings, there's a view of the Kibbutzim across the football field, also with bomb shelters on either side. One “Urban” Kibbutz was founded back in 1987, by this woman, Nomika, and 5 other visionaries who shared the goal of having dialogue with folks in Gaza, not war. They’re about 80 people today; half that number is their kids. Nomika shared with us in the recreation room of the Kibbutz stories that will be hard to forget. She is a different voice in Israel, one that is more humane and empathetic towards human beings in Gaza. She shared that when she was young, maybe 10, she made friends with a Moroccan girl, and they were very close. When the little girl came to visit her, however, local boys would run over to them, throwing stones and yelling racial slurs to the young Sephardic girl, chasing her back to Gaza. She never saw her again. It stayed with her, wondering how people could think they’re better than someone else.
She wrote an article a couple years ago, relating her compassion for peace and humanity to the masses. The article was translated into 20 languages, Nomika stated. She received responses from people all over the world, especially from Israeli’s who feel the same way about war and the treatment of other human beings, that it’s wrong, that there should be dialogue, and not death. It’s all about revenge now, not understanding.
There is so much hatred built up with this issue, such a wall, with Gaza and Israel, with Palestinians and Jews, that the ultimate goal, peace or something better, may never actually be seen. Ever… Ever? I don’t know. But today was one of the defining reasons why I came to Israel. I wanted to see how Israeli’s live in fear. They don’t live in fear. They LIVE.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Friday night we had another family seder at the house. I have to say that my roommates are pretty much the best chefs ever. I’m not really sure how they do it, but everything turns out amazing. It’s incredible! (And usually 100% veggie friendly!)
We had quite the potluck spread!
And invited over a few guests to share in the glory–including Lisa’s dad (visiting from the U.S.) who did the Challah-cutting prayer honors.
There are 3 prayers, which are traditional on Shabbat. The first is the prayer over the candles, the second is the prayer over the wine, and the third is the prayer over the bread/Challah. I’m sure there are more, but with my “relaxed Jew status” I’m only familiar with the three.
Later Maya and I went out with some friends to this cute bar in North Tel Aviv. The night may or may not have ended with Maya flying down the Ayalon (the local highway) on the back of a motorcycle. Pretty epic.
The next day (Saturday) was the start of Lag B’Omer–yet another Israeli holiday (because, let’s be real, it would be wrong to go one week without a holiday in this country.) At first almost all of us were completely unaware as to what this holiday actually was.
Upon inquiring as to what we were getting ourselves into the only response was that we were going to set things on fire. No explanation as to why we were setting things on fire, just the simple fact that that was what was going to happen. Hm. Okay?
Tikkun Olam organized a bonfire in a local park so that we could participate in the festivities. We had no idea what we were about to get ourselves into. The bonfire was a lot of fun–we roasted veggies, marshmallows, hotdogs, potatoes, etc…delish!
While we dined on barbecue deliciousness there were huge bonfires throughout the entire park. People came out to set broken chairs/various slabs of wood alight. It was nuts!
The synagogue next to our house (which is usually pretty Orthodox) was blasting reggae music as kids ran around a gigantic bonfire in the yard.
And this is reason number 46593 for why I love Israel.
After Lag B’Omer life resumed as usual, but there are a few new updates:
1) Apparently the high school students in Israel stop coming to class for the last month of school in order to study intensely for the Bagrut. This seems very counterintuitive to me, but nonetheless my students have departed. I’m a little sad because I liked them all a lot, but soon they’ll be headed for the army (which will actually benefit a lot of them in regards to education) and beyond! And I feel like I’ve had a small part in helping them get there.
2) I’ll now be helping at Etgarim, which is an after-school biking program for students with mental/physical disabilities. It’s going to be challenging, but I’m excited to work with kids in a less structured environment :)
3) I joined a gym! It’s getting a little too hot to be running around the neighborhood and now that I have pool access my life will vastly improve.
Next week I’ll be heading into even warmer weather, however, as I journey to Eilat! Eilat is one of the few major places in Israel that I’ve never been before. Birthright doesn’t take participants to Eilat, but it’s location on the Red Sea makes it the “Miami” of the holyland. We are allowed to take one week off from volunteering so I decided that Sunday through Wednesday I’ll be heading south to Israeli paradise! I am beyond excited..apparently there are glass-bottom boats and dolphins involved. That can’t be bad! It just can’t!
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Starting at 8pm on Monday May 9th it became Yom HaAtzmaut which is Israeli Independence Day. This started with tons of celebrations in Rabin Square where there were thousands upon thousands of people celebrating. All the kids had this spray foam stuff and they also had inflatable hammers and they were going crazy, spraying each other and beating each other with the hammers. I got to Rabin Square and right away there was a woman performing on stage. I didn’t know who she was but I was told she was a pretty famous Israeli singer. After her many other people came on and performed. There was one woman who apparently is really big and she reminded all of us of Ellen Degeneres. After her this old man came on to perform, once again no idea but was told he is an older singer and very well known. Everyone who performed was amazing. After the show ended at like 2am Nancy, Kelly and I went to Florentine for the street party. The street party was completely BALIGAN(crazy/insane). Tens of thousands of people drinking, dancing and partying in the streets. It was one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen. Music was loud, drinks were everywhere, it was a night of pure craziness.
The next day consisted of much more celebrating. First thing to do was to wake up and go to the beach to watch the air show and navy and whatever else was going on. We got to the beach and there must have been at least 10,000 people on the beach hanging out for the shows. First thing to come were the navy, I think they had 7 ships and they were all in a line coming straight towards us. The first ship lit off some yellow/green smoke for show. Other ships also let of smoke. After the navy everyone who owned a yacht or sailboat or anything was out in the water. There must have been over 100 of them in a line sailing. Finally the air show started. The first group to come was also the best group. They consisted of 4 planes, propeller powered and they flew in formation and did tricks and such. The next group was 3 military helicopters flying by. Followed by a group of 3 planes, looked like C-130′s but I could be mistaken. The next group was cool, it was 3 F-16s I think and a fuel plane and one of the planes was being fueled as it flew over. Next up was a group of 5 fighters that flew in formation with each other and after them another 5 did the same thing. It ended with 4 different planes of El Al flying in formation to, which was cool but they were passenger jets as opposed to the military but it was still cool. The day at the beach was great.
Then it was time for the bbq! Everyone bought stuff and made whatever and brought it to the table. I made chicken soaked in a nice marinade I found online. Everyone seemed to love it as well as everything else that was brought to the table. Vegetable kabobs were being made and many other things. Ended up being a really nice day, having everyone over and just celebrating Israels Independence Day!
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
This past Sunday our program took a trip to Jerusalem for the day. The purpose of our visit was to tour some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Now, we currently live in a fairly Orthodox neighborhood, but evidently there’s a pretty big difference between “pretty Orthodox” and “ultra-Orthodox.” We went to a neighborhood called Mea Shearim, which is fairly well known. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I felt intially very uncomfortable. Why? Well, this is what you see when you enter the neighborhood:
It felt like it was still the late 19th century in there. The manner of dress, the lack of most technology, the seemingly simple lifestyle. Evidently, these super-Orthodox (technically the term is “Haredi”) do not have televisions or computers or the internet for fear of coming across any immodest images. They all have cell phones though, which seems slightly out of place given the rest of the environment, but whatever floats their boat.
In addition to the interesting sign that greeted us upon entering Mea Shearim, we also saw this one:
Overall, I found the experience to be a positive one. It was certainly uncomfortable at times, and there were parts where I didn’t want to be there at all. For example, we went to a supermarket at some point to see all the crazy hullabaloo happening in preparation for Pesach. Um, a supermarket? Really? I left and waited outside. It felt like we were treating these people like animals in a zoo. Despite ridiculousness like this, there were some good parts. We had an opportunity to watch some people make handmade matzot for Pesach. It was quite the operation and extremely hot inside the bakery (for lack of a better word.) The guy running the place was happy to let us stand inside and watch and even spoke to us for a little bit. This made me feel more welcome and less like an intruder, which for all intents and purposes, we were.
After our tour of this neighborhood, we had some free time in the big shuk in Jerusalem. I remember going there on Birthright. It’s quite a bit bigger than the shuks we usually go to in Tel Aviv. Jon bought some chopped liver there that was ridiculously good.
After our break at the shuk, we actually went to a small synagogue and spoke to a Heredi Jew about their lifestyle. This was very educational. The man, Ellie, was funny and eager to talk to us. I got the feeling he was among the more liberal members of the ultra-Orthodox community. We all spoke together for well over an hour. We all had a lot of questions for him and he answered them quite honestly. Abby asked him at one point about his opinion on increased settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. He said that although he felt that the land belonged to Jews and not Arabs, he felt like the settlements served no purpose other than to antagonize and thus were not a good idea. I liked this. It was honest and thoughtful and realistic. I don’t feel like I hear this response very often, and I did not expect it from a member of the Haredi community.
Our group headed back to Tel Aviv after this, but a few of us stuck around. It was a pretty last minute decision to hop off the bus, but I figured if I’m already in Jerusalem, I might as well check out the Old City and the Kotel. So, Alana, her friend Elisa from home, Evin, Josh M., and I wandered around the Old City for a while. We saw touristy stuff like King David’s Tomb, the Last Supper room, Zion Gate, and of course, the Kotel. Here are some pictures:
As many of you know, its tradition to leave a note or prayer in the wall, which I have happily done each time I’ve visited the Wall. As I was finishing writing my note this time, an Orthodox woman with a little boy asked to borrow my pen. I had a silly pencil in my bag that one of my supervisors had given me at one of my volunteer placements, so I gave the boy the pencil to keep. He didn’t say much and mostly just stared at me, but hopefully he gets more use out of the silly, colorful pencil than I did.
And so after our visit to the Wall, we headed home. Well, Evin and Josh M. and I did. Alana and her friend Elisa stayed the night in what appeared to be a pretty sweet hostel in the Old City. As we were leaving the Old City, we saw this displayed on the outer walls by Jaffa Gate:
It was thousands of little light bulbs lit up in the shape of the Israeli flag. It was HUGE. I think they were testing it out for something future event, because it was literally only on for 30 seconds. We lucked out when we nabbed pictures for ourselves. It was a great ending to an occasionally uncomfortable, always interesting, very hot, and very long day.
Friday, April 15, 2011
For me, Pesach has always been a time to see that crazy family of mine, eat delicious food, and retell the story of our people crossing arid deserts to reach the Promised Land. As the holiday approaches this year in 2011, the southern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv had a gathering for their own family. Around 5:30 in the afternoon of Saturday April 9th, the African refugees from around the area, the Israeli citizens, as well as the Tikkun Olam participants all gathered at Levinsky Park to have a seder of their own. This, indeed, was a spectacle to see as individuals from several different cultural and ethnic backgrounds congregated to share this special time together.
This seder happened to take place approximately 24 hours following a demonstration by the Tel Aviv population that resents the growing African refugee situation present in Tel Aviv. People gathered to express their beliefs as to why the refugee “problem” is getting out of control while chanting outrageous and spiteful slogans aimed at the refugees. While the refugee population has been increasing over the past several years, there is no excuse for this type of behavior. While it is true that much needs to be done regarding the amassing refugees, there is only so much that Israel can do. On top of that, racism and hatred not acceptable and is blatantly forgetting that we too were strangers in the land of Egypt. It is our responsibility to never forget that. Having an event such as this Refugee Seder really seemed to breathe life into a population that has been the victim of insensitive and slanderous comments.
The night began with all of the guests arriving between 5:30 and 6:30 at the basketball courts in the center of the park. Conversation flew back and forth, despite the obvious language barrier. Hearing Hebrew, Tigrinya, Arabic, English and others in the same vicinity was truly mesmerizing. After Matzah, Charoset, and beverages were distributed amongst the tables, the organizers of the seder began a song session that included Hebrew songs, as well as songs that were believed to be universal, such as Bob Marley. The leaders of the seder recited the 4 Questions, the 4 Cups of Wine and explained a quick version of the Exodus from Egypt. Then, the refugees explained their stories of how they too traveled through the same land on their way to Israel. These stories were both fascinating as well as depressing, as they usually depicted difficult times during a difficult journey. However, there was a sense of closure as both sides realized that their recent stories and our ancestral stories were quite similar. Then, of course, it was time to eat; the best part of any seder!
After eating a filling and delicious dinner, several volunteers traveled around to distribute fruits for dessert, as well as begin to clean up the trash. During this time, other volunteers were taking the extra food and boxing it up so that the refugees could take it home. Even young children of the refugees were eager to lend a hand. After all the food and garbage was cleaned up, the festivities continued with song and dance sessions. A live band arrived to perform as circles of refugees, Israelis, and of course the Tikkun Olam-ers danced and celebrated the holiday, as well as the unity present. A true feeling of understanding filled the basketball court as the mass that was once a representation of several nations morphed into a homogeneous mixture of people simply enjoying coexistence. More events of this sort are needed to break down the walls of difference and misunderstanding and build new ones with a foundation of acceptance and respect.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Unlike many of the people in our program, I don’t work directly with African refugees. I can’t call them my students, my neighbors or my friends. My experiences have largely come from observation, conversation with my fellow participants, and my commute to and from the Secular Yeshiva. Watching young, unemployed African men crouched on the side of Har Tsyion, waiting for day labor contracts to come their way, raises a plethora of issues, but first and foremost, it raises the issue of what a Jewish State should be.
As a Jewish national home, does Israel have the room and resources to provide for the thousands of Africans who have fled conflict and settled throughout the country? The Talmud teaches that “Jews are the compassionate children of compassionate parents. One who is merciless toward his fellow creatures is no descendant of our father Abraham.” Does deporting young Sudanese refugees back to uncertain and possibly dangerous situations or interning them in a holding facility in the Negev fit in with this Talmudic understanding of a core Jewish value?
I could share with you terrifying anecdotes about the labor exploitation, xenophobia, and deportation of asylum seekers. This is a country that absorbed more than a million Russian olim within the span of a decade. Can it not provide paperwork and justice to a few thousand with no home to return to? Disentangling the issue of undocumented asylum seekers from the heated rhetoric oftentimes used to discuss it is a necessary step in order to truly begin to seek justice for the young men on the side of the road.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Almost two weeks ago, I went to my first MASA conference- a week long seminar hosted at a hostel in Jerusalem centered on building future leadership in the Jewish world. Walking off the bus and into the hostel, I found myself and the three other participants of my program surrounded by over 400 MASA participants, from both gap year and post-college programs. I spent the week with a group of 15 other post-college participants, discussing presentations as well as encounters from our time in Israel.
Being around such a diverse group of participants prompted a wide range of talks, ranging from living in Israel to the role of Zionism, to our roles in the future. With "Vision into Reality" as my focus, I was able to sit in on lectures hosted by members of the Israeli organization, Debate, as they disclosed the formula to attain your vision.
In the evenings, there were more opportunities to network with other participants as well as attend cultural and informative sessions. One such session being an open panel discussion comprising of four young adults from different sectors of the Jewish world. Ranging from working for the Israeli Defense Force, Hillel, or a start-up non-profit, the panel shed light on issues and topics that have emerged throughout my time in Israel.
The conference was a great opportunity to meet a wide-range of participants and enabled an open forum for discussion. It was evident by the conference that the MASA organization has a lot of confidence in the young generation to spearhead the Jewish world in the future. As a volunteer in South Tel Aviv, I often forget the role of my volunteering in the larger scheme, but by attending the conference and sharing my experiences, I realized that there is an immense support network both in Israel and worldwide.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
This weekend marked our first group trip around Israel! Once a month we go on weekend camping trips through various regions. This weekend we drove down to the Negev (A huuuuge desert in southern Israel) for some hiking and farm tours. After a 2+ hour drive into the desert we found ourselves at an Alpaca farm down south. We learned all about the little critters and got to feed them too!
After learning about Alpacas (not to be confused with llamas…the farmer made that very clear) we took off for yet another farm tour. This time we found ourselves at a “Lone Farm” a few minutes south of the first farm. A Lone Farm is owned by one family in the middle of the Negev. There are quite a few lone farms in the area, which provides a nice community for trading, selling, etc…There is also quite a bit of tourism at Lone Farms, which is how these “middle of nowhere” vegetable/animal establishments survive.
The farm we arrived at was a goat farm, so of course we had to do a cheese and yogurt tasting. I’ve never had such great yogurt in my life! After that we learned more about the farm and why the farmer chose to live out in the Negev. The goats were fun too. We had a great time messing around, playing on farm equipment, and making friends with the animals.
Afterwards, we took off for Bedouin campgrounds in the area. We were off to spend a night in the great outdoors! The Bedouins are a nomadic Arab tribe that have lived in the desert for thousands of years. They generally work with livestock, but in the past few years that way of life has become increasingly more difficult. This is due to the tightening of zoning laws, the rise in Urban areas, land ownership rights, etc.
We arrived at the Bedouin camp and immediately set up our sleeping area. It was a little touristy, but still fun. We also drank some amazing tea that they were passing out at the camp.
The man on the right was the one providing the tea. After I finished my first glass I really wanted another so I went up to him and said, “Od-pa’am Bvachasha.” He looked at me kind of funny and my friends all laughed because I had said, “Another time, please.” In order to defend myself I turned back to him and said, “Ani ivrit lo tov.” This time he looked at me like I was seriously an idiot because I had said “I am Hebrew, not good.” After a few moments of contemplation I finally said it correctly (Ivrit sheli lo tov) and we had a good chuckle at my poor language skills.
Though embarrassing, I personally take no shame in this moment! Despite my lack of language knowledge I’ve totally put myself out there for the past few weeks. I say the words with confidence even if I don’t necessarily know that I’m correct. I may not always be right, but everything is a learning experience. One way or another I will figure out this wacky language!
After setting up our sleeping bags, a few of us hiked up the dunes to watch the sunset.
We then proceeded to cook up an incredible dinner. We made Poike (a type of vegetable concoction) and then finished up with chocolate covered bananas and marshmallows.
These homemade fire-baked pitas were also thrown into the mix. Oh my gracious, amazing.
After dinner we all sat around playing guitar, singing songs, and just plain chatting. We all went to bed together in the same tent area as one big happy Tikkun Olam family.
The next morning we woke up bright and early to climb through the Ramon Crater (Mahktesh Ramon). The name “Crater” is actually quite misleading because technically it’s not really a crater (at least in the sense that a meteor did not hit the earth). Now, I’m no science whiz, but from what I understand millions of years ago the ocean sat in this specific area of the Negev. For various reasons the ocean eventually receded leaving behind this large eroded area.
The area is actually very cool, it looks like the Grand Canyon (at least what I imagine the Grand Canyon to look like).
Desert excitement! We proceeded to go on a 6+ hour hike (our toucas’s were on fiyah). We tackled this mountain/overlook, which had a killer view at the top.
Once we got to the top, we hiked around for a few hours and then made the descent back down. This is where things became a little dicey. The descent was almost entirely vertical and mostly sand/rock. There were a few boulders and footholds along the way, but for the most part it was a panicky trip to the bottom. Somehow I wound up in the front of my section of the pack and figuring everything out without someone helping was hard. When I’m nervous I give myself mini pep-talks, so I just kept saying things like, “This is great! I’m fine! We’re beasting this mountain! We are the alufs (champions!).” Behind me, my friend Davida was just as nervous so she kept laughing every time I fell on my booty/said something ridiculous. The trip down took almost 40 minutes and at the bottom we all kissed the ground with joy.
Afterwards, our guide Benji told us that middle school classes regularly come to do this hike. I don’t know what kind of mountain-goat kids they’re breeding in Israel, but I need to learn these secrets.
After a few more hours of hiking and a trip up another cliff we made our way back to TLV. We all took much needed showers and had a great time relaxing at the house.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
I recently spent a week with five hundred young Jews who are committed
to improving the global Jewish community. From Tikkun Olam, I was
joined by Nate Kemphues, Lisa Tankanow and Jodie Suckle at the
Building Future Leadership conference in Jerusalem. We participated
in workshops ranging from public speaking, tikkun olam, Israel
advocacy, team building skills, social entrepreneurship, to Jewish
leadership during the Holocaust. While the workshops were well put
together and interesting, I found that the people around me were the
most fascinating and motivating aspects of the conference. In the
small group that we participated in for the entire week, we heard from
young Jews who wanted to revitalize the Conservative movement,
radically change the way North American Jewish education works, bring
young Jewish communal professionals to Israel, and build stronger ties
between Jews and non-Jews across the globe.
Although the conference participants were a highlight, an evening
event called "Open Space" provided an amazing example of how to start
paradigm changing conversations. All 500 of the conference attendees
were crammed into a large room with large pieces of paper filling the
center of the space. A large box of markers was dumped onto the pile
of paper and we were told to write down any topic about any issue.
Topics were all over the place, from "Who is a Jew?" to "Do Jewish
Federations still matter?" to "Post Modernism and Zionism." We were
then told to pick a group, engage in the conversation and to move on
to a different topic if we weren't contributing to the conversation.
It was a truly impressive evening that we developed for ourselves and
that led to a variety of exchanges dealing with Judaism in the
Diaspora over the remainder of the week.
Discussing the challenges facing the Diaspora over meals and during
free time allowed me to finally commit to what I want to be doing for
the next five years of my life: professional Jewish communal work with
young adults and college students. I spent the last evening of the
conference discussing my resume and working on interviewing skills
with a conference attendee who used to be an HR manager at a Fortune
500 company. Friday morning I sent off an application to a position
that I never would have applied for if I hadn't received encouragement
and advice at the Building Future Leaders conference. While I'm a
long shot for the job, the conference was the motivation I needed to
commit to a serious job search so that I can help build the Jewish
community I want to raise my children in.
Katie Vogel is a native of Detroit, Michigan and attended graduate
school for urban planning at the University of Cincinnati. She plans
on returning to Chicago, Illinois after riding her bicycle from Moscow
to Berlin with her husband, Nate Kemphues. A participant in the 10
month Coexistence Track, Katie splits her time between grant writing
and research, pretending to be a dinosaur while chasing
kindergartners, tutoring English to high school students and
researching and developing bicycle legislation and policy for Israel.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Just this past week, housing issues came to a head with multiple protests and demonstrations up and down the main streets of Jaffa. On Wednesday, a group of about 20 right-wing Jewish protesters marched from the Jaffa port until they reached the end of our street, demanding in the name of zionism that Jaffa is meant to be a Jewish city, and only a Jewish city. Although this is contradictory to the ultimate truth that Jaffa is home to 17,000 Arabs, it was nevertheless difficult to witness, respond to, and all the more so to turn into teaching moments for the hundreds of students we collectively work with.
But amidst the hatred this week, were also moments of coexistence and community - one of which I was proud to be a part of. In addition to the counter protests that followed the right-wing demonstration, I attended a pre-demonstration the Tuesday evening prior, calling for an end to the government's removal of low-income housing tenants from both south Tel Aviv and Jaffa. This protest also took place a few blocks from our apartments, but was instead filled with camaraderie and hope for future, as both Arab and Jewish residents shouted impassioned stories of shared struggle and the desire to keep all families, both Jewish and Arab, in their homes. As one man yelled, "Jaffa has always been both Jewish and Arab and will forever be both Jewish and Arab!" Women, children, old people and young people, councilmen and teachers rose to speak as the megaphone was passed around. As I looked at the crowd I had trouble deciphering who was Arab and who was Jewish, which even in Jaffa is a rare occurrence. Although the mixed population co-habitates in a very small area, it is unique to find an issue that binds the Jewish and Arab plights so closely.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Alex Shonkoff, a 5-month participant in our Social Action volunteer track, had the following to say about the experience:
"Dialogue in the Dark is a Blind Museum, where you feel your way through the dark, led by a blind or visually impaired person. One of my volunteering places will be at the Blind Center, so this experience was one I was really looking forward to. It was incredible.
Our leader, Sadiot, was cheeky and mischievous, and led us through a maze in complete darkness. Every room was a different setting, and all you can do is use your other senses to get around. Following his voice into the maze, we “traveled” to different aspects of daily life, such as smelling the fruits at the shuk, walking along a city street with cars honking, sitting in a buoyed motor boat, feeling the wind on our faces and the current taking us. There was a music room, and at the end a café with a bartender, who you could hear leave the bar to play the piano and sing (with an incredible voice). It was truly enlightening. I am really excited to work with blind people. I have never worked with anyone who’s had to strictly use other senses or abilities to get around."
Sunday, February 6, 2011
|5 month participants receive certificates of completion|
But the events didn't end there! The end of the semester party planners did a terrific job of organizing the evening's festivities. The night included amazing food, memorable slideshows, karaoke, and even a talent show! Our participants demonstrated that in addition to volunteering they can act, sing, rap, play instruments, do impersonations, and write beautiful poetry.
|The party planning committee did an amazing job!|
|A unique rendition of The Leaving on a Jet Plane|
Thank you all for making the past five months such a success!