Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Break for the Kids of Southern Israel

Ian Cohen, a current participant in Tikkun Olam's Social Action Track, and an avid lacrosse player in his spare time, recently helped operate a lacrosse and basketball camp for kids from Be'er Sheva during Operation Pillar of Defense.  The camp offered the kids a much-needed respite from the constant rocket fire that Be'er Sheva saw during the operation.

Read what Ian had to say about his experience below, and click here to register for Tikkun Olam's Spring semester!

Ian with a student at one of his volunteering locations in Tel Aviv

Lacrosse has always been a hobby for me, but it recently took on a deeper meaning.  I am currently spending a year living and volunteering in Israel with the Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa program (  During the recent conflict between Israel and Gaza, I was given the opportunity to participate in what will certainly be one of the more memorable experiences during my time here.

A few weeks ago, before Operation Pillar of Defense began, I joined the Tel Aviv Lacrosse club.  A week later, after hostilities broke out, I received a mass text message from the director of Israel Lacrosse asking if any of the club members would be interested in helping to run a lacrosse clinic for kids later in the week. I quickly jumped at the chance to work with Israeli youth and teach them a new sport. With the help of some connections, Netanya Hoops for Kids and Israel Lacrosse were able to organize a bus full of kids from Be'er Sheva to come north to Netanya to stay in a boarding school for a few nights, to get away from the rockets and missiles raining down on their homes.  In the meantime, we would treat them to basketball and lacrosse clinics – a welcome change for them from being cooped up in bomb shelters.

When we arrived at the boarding school, we set up in an open field near where some local kids were playing on a playground.  Within minutes of putting the equipment down, some students came over and snatched up the sticks, trying to figure out how to use this foreign device. I showed some of them some basics, but they were really just interested in throwing the ball and shooting on the net. While this was happening, students in the classroom got wind of what was going on outside, and began pressing their faces up to the windows, and even hanging out the windows trying to get the kids with the sticks to throw the balls into the classroom. Just as the teachers broke up the mayhem and brought the kids inside, the children from Be'er Sheva arrived, right on cue.

Ian (far right) with other members of the lacrosse and basketball clubs, running the camp

After an introduction from the director of Netanya Hoops for Kids, we split up into groups and began coaching.  While the kids had never seen lacrosse before, they were open to learning about this new sport.  I made the most of my time with each group, and tried to teach them as much as possible. After the groups had been through each station, we regrouped and talked as a large group once more before dispersing.

While the activity itself was short-lived, I can certainly say that this will be one of the more memorable experiences I will take away from these ten months with Tikkun Olam. I take a great sense of pride in feeling like I made a difference in these kid’s lives by being a part of a great activity and giving them some respite from the situation back home.  It was a great feeling getting to see the joy on the kids' faces, and knowing I was able to help give them a short break from the troubles back home.  I hope that there won't be a need for another clinic like this, but if there is, I'll definitely be happy to help out again. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Operation "Pillar of Defense" Through The Eyes of Tikkun Olam

The following article was written by Galit Roichman, who teaches the Tikkun Olam participants a weekly class on Israeli society through Israeli film.  The article appeared last week in Hebrew on Ynet (link), and appears below in translation.  Here is a link to Galit's website on Israeli film.

Israel's "Pillar of Defense," Through The Eyes of Others
Whoever has not had the chance to see the Israeli reality from the viewpoint of foreigners has missed a golden opportunity to get a humorous and tragic perspective on the most basic raw materials of our lives," says a lecturer on cinema for volunteers from abroad.

by Galit Roichman, November 19, 2012

On Thursdays between 2:00-5:00 PM I can be found in world repair.  It's less strange than it sounds.  Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), in addition to being a key idea in Jewish discourse, is the name of a service-learning program that offers Jewish young adults from around the world an in-depth experience of Israeli society.

During the course of 5 or 10 months, these young adults live in south Tel Aviv and in Jaffa, and engage in volunteering and study that offers them a better understanding of the reality of life in this corner of the Middle East.

If once the conventional wisdom was that we need to show Jewish tourists from abroad the beauty and magic of the promised land, to whet their appetites for its joys and pleasures, today a different approach has taken hold – let's invite our Jewish brothers and sisters from across the sea to see Israel as it really is.  Come journey with us not only on the scenic journey through Masada, the mountainous Jordan and the Kotel, but let's also give them a chance to see the back yard, such as the one found in the area of the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station and the impoverished neighborhoods of Jaffa.

These folks do not come here to be impressed; they come here to take part in the project, to influence, to give and above all – to belong.  These stormy days that are passing over all of us are not passing over the participants of Tikkun Olam, world repairers. 

Last Thursday I arrived to Tikkun Olam to meet the participants of the new semester, and to start my series of lectures on Israeli society through the lens of cinema.  A bit before I started, the group's coordinator asked me for a couple of minutes so that she could brief the group on the security situation in the south of Israel and to the Pillar of Defense that arose in its footsteps.

What can I say, whoever has not had the chance to see the Israeli reality from the viewpoint of outsiders has missed a golden opportunity to get a humorous and tragic perspective on the basic raw materials of our lives.

The coordinator described the situation precisely – rockets falling on the south of Israel and the IDF attacking in Gaza, and explains the home front guidelines – to remain alert when in public spaces, and to know where the protected areas are that they will need to go to in the event of a siren.

The program participants (all in their 20s), respond with a volley of questions: what is the chance that the war will reach Tel Aviv?  In the event that missiles fall in the Tel Aviv area, will the program evacuate them from the danger zone and order them plane tickets home? How can they inform the U.S. embassy of their whereabouts in Jaffa and south Tel Aviv so that, in an emergency, the embassy can locate them and ensure their wellbeing?

And the question of all questions – "When you tell us to stay generally alert, what does that actually mean? We understand that we need to be aware of suspicious items, but are there other warning signs that we, who aren't from Israel, need to know how to identify?"

The last question sparked within me a geyser of dark humor – "Yes. If someone gets on the bus and yells 'Allah hu-akbar!' you should jump out the window."

Twenty eyes turned to me with an embarrassed and confused look.  First, because you need to be Israeli to understand the joke, and second, because it's not totally clear to these foreign visitors why it is so pressing for a teacher of cinema to tell a joke at this exact time and place when there's a war on the horizon.

Dark Humor as Protective Armor
And so, it is pressing to the teacher and to the Israelis to use humor as one uses protective armor.  In order to form a basis for my argument, I rush to open the class with a scene from Walk on Water, Eitan Fuchs's film from 2004.

Eyal is a tough Mossad agent that has been assigned to go undercover as a tour guide, and to accompany Axel, a young German man who happens to be the grandson of a Nazi war criminal.  Eyal waits for Axel at the airport, and their first interaction goes like this:

Eyal:  Welcome to Israel.  There was just a terrorist attack here.
Axel:  Right here?
Eyal:  In Rishon LeTzion, it's a nearby city.  But don't worry, usually they just blow up once a day.   Usually, but maybe for you they'll do another attack.
Axel is silent.  He gives Eyal an embarrassed look.
Eyal:  I'm joking.
Axel:  Ahh.

I really love this scene.  In my mind, it demonstrates beautifully the relationship between the filmed cinematic text and the audience watching it.  An Israeli audience listens to the dialogue and laughs, a foreign audience hears the audience and is perturbed.  The Israelis, products of the culture that spawned the film, understand its subtext, while the foreigners experience only the text itself.

This is of course true of any film and the way in which it is received by the domestic audience and the foreign audience, but what is interesting in Walk on Water and makes it such a big success among foreign audiences, is that the film from the outset directs itself to foreign eyes and offers them a character with whom to identify.

Throughout most of its history, Israeli cinema was focused on itself and on the "homecoming," with which it sought to discourse.  During the last several years, a new trend developed, of which Walk on Water is one of the most typical representatives – cinema that seeks to view the essence of being Israeli not necessarily from our native viewpoint, but rather from the perspective of the foreigners who come to us from outside.

And so it is that the German (and Christian and gay) Axel is the one who teaches Eyal, the handsome but emotionally handicapped sabra, to walk on water, or rather shows him the lost path  to the sweet fruit of the sabra cactus, the one that was forgotten under the camouflage of sharp thorns.

German Axel is not alone.  Alongside him is Noodle, the cute Chinese child from the film named for him (Noodle, directed by Eilat Menhami, 2006), that brings relief to the weary soul of Miri, an IDF widow who lost two husbands to Israeli wars.  Miri, like Eyal the Mossad agent, surrendered under the weight of Israeli life, afflicted with grief and sorrow. 

Indeed the foreigner and the other, the same little Chinese boy that does not understand our painful subtext, is the one who manages to understand  her soul and to return to her a zest for life and hope for the future.

On a much lighter note, we can add to the group of "foreigners among us," films, The Band's Visit, in which members of the Egyptian band shed light on the sleepy lives of the residents of the fictional development town Beit HaTikvah.  And there are also more critical films – Eyal Halfon's What A Wonderful Place, and Ra'anan Alexandrovich's James' Journey to Jerusalem and Eran Riklis's The Human Resources Manager.  In short, a foreign perspective has refreshed the view of our homeland several times in the crop of Israeli films in recent years.

I intended to tell one thing, and then I digressed to farther off subjects of a different sort.  What I wanted to say was that on that same afternoon with Tikkun Olam, last Thursday, I was given the privilege to observe the reality of our lives from outside, through the embarrassed and curious perspective of twenty-something people who aren't from here and aren't committed to staying here even one dangerous minute.

An hour after we parted ways, a siren already went off in the Tel Aviv area.  I don't know how they felt at that moment and I'm sure it was very unpleasant.

They don't have the armor of dark humor that many of us sabras have, and I also suspect that the Jewish-Israeli term "Iron Dome" (the short-range missile defense system) sounds to them rather strange and not so comforting.

In any event, I have a strong feeling that next Thursday they will still be here, ready to repair the world in this stormy corner of the Middle East.  Good for them that they possess the bravery to continue volunteering, to continue to learn about us under fire.  To be a mirror for us.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tikkun Olam in Action: Support for pregnant asylum seekers

Sarah Mednick, a current Social Action Track participant from upstate New York, wrote about her experience helping an asylum seeker from Eritrea seek medical care for her newborn baby.  

The author (far right) with her fellow Tikkun Olamers

As part of my volunteering with Tikkun Olam, I work with a unique organization called Brit Olam, which provides support to pregnant African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv through the Hagar and Miriam project. Most of the women that seek assistance from Hagar and Miriam are young (in their early 20's), from Eritrea, and first-time mothers without their own mothers or other female role models to support them. As a volunteer, I am helping with three main tasks: grant-writing, weekly intakes, and post-birth visits to check on the well-being of the new mothers and their babies.

A few days ago I did my first post-birth checkup with a client from Hagar and Miriam. Her name is Tsega and she's from Eritrea. She speaks a little English, a little Hebrew, but not so much in either language that she feels very comfortable going to doctors and navigating the healthcare system on her own. Her baby Asema (a girl who was born prematurely, but has enormous brown eyes and is simply beautiful) needs surgery, so there's a lot she has to do.

I went with her to a clinic to get all the right referrals, get a basic checkup for the baby, and generally make her feel like she's not alone. I was extremely nervous because I had no training for this whatsoever, but it went pretty well. A lot of it is just repeating things for her to calm her down, write them down in a simpler way, and make her feel like we'll be capable of getting things done. For my part in dealing with the Israelis who run these kinds of offices, the best thing is just to pretend that I know exactly what I'm doing. It makes everyone feel better, and it works out in terms of getting the information we need. If they think I know what I'm doing, they'll also be nicer to us. Fake it till you make it.

After Tsega and I left the clinic, she insisted that I go over to her house for lunch. I tried a few times to resist, but her response each time was “Ok! But come over.” Her neighborhood and house were pretty run down; she lives in an area of South Tel Aviv where a lot of asylum seekers live. As far as I can tell, Eritreans are very warm and kind (and not just to guests). They seem to be very sweet to each other, very friendly, and happier than I imagine I would be after going through what they've gone through.

When Tsega brought me to her home, she introduced me to a lot of people who were thrilled to meet me, excited to practice English, shook my hand a million times, and thanked me for helping her. Her husband gave me a soda from the store he works at and made us “Taita,” a spongy pita with meat and spices inside. It was absolutely delicious. Tsega and I chatted, she teased me about my paltry appetite and showed me pictures from her wedding. 

The experience was tough and confusing at times, both for me and for Tsega, but it felt great being able to help her and being able to see how much she appreciated it.  I can't wait to visit her again!

Applications are currently available for Tikkun Olam's Spring 5-month session, beginning February 12.  Click here to apply now!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Participant Perspectives: Jerusalem and Yom Kippur

At the very peak of the High Holy Day season, the Tikkun Olam group went on their first day tour of the year, to Jerusalem.  One day before Yom Kippur, the city is overflowing with visitors, who join with residents in attending synagogue from early in the morning until late at night and making their way to the Western Wall during the 10 days of "slichot" between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  

Natanya, a participant in the Social Action Track from Chicago, tells about the group's tour where they learned about the complexity and intensity that define Jerusalem, and also about the unique experience of Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv, when the bustling metropolis becomes a ghost town.

Hi All! This week has been very interesting and I cannot wait to write about it.
On Monday, our program took us on a full day trip to Jerusalem. The theme of the day was Pluralism - in this context referring to the diversity of religious beliefs systems coexisting in one setting. There are three very distinct groups that live in three separate areas of Jerusalem, and struggle to find their own place in this very special city… secular Israeli Jews, Haredi Jews (ultra-orthodox), and Arabs. 
Our first stop was to Shuk HaKaparot - this chicken market opens up only during the High Holidays. It follows an ancient practice where each person purchases their own chicken, says a prayer regarding the redemption of their sins, and then slaughters it in front of them, cooks it and feeds it to the poor. Even though it was a little frightening it was interesting to experience.
Our second stop was to meet with a city planner - they took us to the basement of their office where they had created a complete scale model of Jerusalem, including the building that have been commissioned to be built in the next few years. He spoke about his profession and how sensitive he has to be to everyones needs, to try to accomodate several “cities” within one municipality. 
The third stop was a meeting with a VERY important feminist figure in Reform Judaism, Anat Hoffman, head of the "Women of the Wall" organization and a major leader for social and religious justice in Israel. She tried to break down three “myths” about women living in Israel. 1. That having had one female prime minister (Golda Meir) means that Israeli politics are inclusive of women. In fact, only 26/120 Knesset (parliament) members are female, which is way behind most Scandinavian/European countries. 2. That the women pioneers who were the first in Israel stood alongside the men with shovels and pics and help built Israel. Research shows that, in fact, those historical pictures of Israel women with shovels were staged, and women fell into the stereotypical jobs that they continue to hold today.  3. That the female soldier in Israel has the same combat/front line opportunities as men. In reality, 85% of females in the army hold clerical jobs, and studies show that their self worth drops significantly during their time in the military, while it is the opposite for men. 
The fourth stop was a meeting with a Chasidic community leader in a very religious neighborhood. He explained the challenges of maintaining faith and tradition in an ever-changing  more modern society. Overall the Jerusalem trip was great!
THE DAY THE CITY TURNED OFF: Yesterday and today we are observing the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. Known in English as the day of Atonement, Jews are encouraged to spend the day in self-reflection, including a 25 hour fast. In Israel, EVERYTHING SHUTS DOWN. Last night we were walking in the middle of the highway, because there are no cars on the road. It is not a law… its not illegal to drive on Yom Kippur… its just that everyone knows this is not the day to drive. It was the most incredible social phenomenon.
My friends and I went to services on the roof of an office building. It was hosted by Bina, one of the organizations responsible for the Tikkun Olam program. The services were great - lots of songs, poems and readings. Everything was in Hebrew, but the parts I didn’t understand I can still get the gist of because the spirit on the roof was so strong. When we came home it was 11 at night, but our neighborhood was still going strong. Every family had taken plastic lawn chairs and were sitting in circles in the middle of the street with their neighbors, just… talking. It was incredible. 
Next week is Sukkot and I am planning some fun trips to other cities so prepare yourself for more fun blog posts! I will leave you with a picture for now.
The view of Old Jaffa from Clara Beach

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Participant Perspectives: Welcome to South Tel Aviv

One week into Tikkun Olam 2012-13, the group is getting acclimated to their neighborhoods and packing in as many Hebrew classes and volunteering site visits as possible before the holidays.  Here, Dave Siegel, a Social Action Track participant from Boston, tells a bit about his first week:

As part of our orientation to living in South Tel Aviv, we took a tour of our neighborhood, Kiryat Shalom. The unique part of the neighborhood is the presence of Bukharan Jews from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Many of these Jews emigrated to Israel after the USSR was dissolved. The history of the Bukharan Jews is up for debate. Some claim they are one of the ten lost tribes of Israel, while others claim that they traveled to Central Asia after the Babylonian Exile and never returned to Eretz Yisrael. We stopped at a Bukharan bakery that makes sambuscas. Sambuscas are sort of like bourekas, but made with a dough that resembles bread dough. There was spinach and onion, mushroom, and meat and onion. I got the meat and onion. Sambuscas are a great snack to hold over ones appetite before lunch or before dinner.

We then headed to the Central Bus Station to get bus passes. After that, our program coordinator let us have free time. Hearing that the Red Hot Chili Peppers were coming to Tel Aviv, some of my new friends and I went to get tickets. Going to see them tomorrow. I am very excited about seeing one of my favorite bands. We then headed back towards Kiryat Shalom and stopped for lunch at a shwarma/shakshouka/falafel place. It was delicious. I got the mixed lamb and turkey shwarma with all of the fixing in a lafa, which is a larger flatbread that does not have a pocket like pita. After that we strolled through the HaCarmel Market. I am going to love going there for all of my food shopping.

We then went hiking near the location of the battle between David and Goliath. It was extremely hot,but worth it because it was gorgeous. We went through a vineyard and snacked on some raisins from the vine. You could taste the sunshine and the earth in the raisin. We then went into some of the caves that were used during the Bar Kochba Revolt. Very dark and scary, but worth it.

We then headed south to Kibbutz Gal On for program orientation and Shabbat. Gal On is absolutely beautiful. While there I got to find out where I could be volunteering and what level of Ulpan (Hebrew class) I will be in. 

Today we are starting Ulpan and going to the Bina Center. More to come from South Tel Aviv in the coming days. Lehitraot.

Applications are open now for Tikkun Olam Spring 2013, running February 12 - July 7, 2013.  Apply now online to join Dave in South Tel Aviv this spring!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tikkun Olam 2012-13 has begun!

Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa 2012-13 is underway!

Our new group of 32 volunteers from the U.S., Europe and Israel landed last Monday.  They had a day of orientation to the program, an introduction to their neighborhoods, and then a weekend at Kibbutz Gal-On in the northern Negev.  Now the group has begun their orientation month, studying Hebrew and going on tours of potential volunteering placements.

Here are a few snapshots from the first week of Tikkun Olam 2012-13:

 The new Tikkun Olamers on day 1 at Beit Daniel
 Hanging out on the kibbutz
 "Heder Ochel" (cafeteria) at Gal On
 Anaelle shows off Israeli snacks
 Enjoying the kibbutz life
 Getting to enter the caves in Tel Azaka
 Ram and Anaelle enjoying a hike in Tel Azaka
 The group learned about Tel Azaka which, according to the bible, was the site of a major battle between the ancient Israelites and the Philistines, culminating in the legendary fight between David and Goliath.
This week the group is learning Hebrew and touring potential volunteering sites -- here the Coexistence Track group visits the Jaffa Multi-purpose Daycare Center

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tikkun Olam Stories!

We added a new entry to our Alumni Testimonials page on our website -- this one from Social Action Track alumna Melissa Cohen, who just finished the 5-month program this past June.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tikkun Olam and Educational Equality

Recently, Tikva Levy, the director of the Hila for Equality in Education organization, passed away.  One of Tikkun Olam's volunteering places, Hila seeks to empower weaker populations and encourage educational equality through grassroots advocacy.

Rachel Smith, who recently completed the 10-month Tikkun Olam Coexistence Track program, posted this to her blog in memory of Tikva:

A few months back, Rachel also wrote a story for Ynet (Israel's biggest news website) about the Hila organization:,7340,L-4175666,00.html

Tikkun Olam participants encourage educational equality from inside the classroom and beyond.  Click here to apply now and join them!

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Tel Aviv Winter

With the hot Tel Aviv summer dragging on into August, here's a refreshingly-titled piece by Tikkun Olam alumna Melissa Cohen that appeared in the Daniel Centers' summer newsletter about her experience this past Spring on Tikkun Olam.

And don't forget -- you still have time to register to join us this September 4 for 5 or 10 months.  Get started on your application now, or contact us if you have any questions.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tisha B'av in South Tel Aviv

Recent Tikkun Olam alum Tyler Fishbone was quoted extensively in this excellent piece from the Times of Israel, which tells about an event with Jews and African aslyum-seekers in south Tel Aviv for Tisha B'av. It also gives a good summary of the tensions surrounding the assylum-seeker issue in the neighborhood:

Tisha B'av is a traditional day of mourning commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples and other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people in the past.

To date, an estimated 60,000 African assylum-seekers have crossed into Israel from the border with Egypt, mostly coming on foot from Eritrea and Sudan.  The majority of them live in south Tel Aviv, an underprivileged area that is struggling to cope with this influx.  The Israeli government has left the asylum-seekers in a kind of legal limbo: The government will not allow them to work legally, but international law prohibits their deportation.  The situation has created tension between the asylum-seekers, neighborhood residents, and refugee aid organizations.

Tikkun Olam participants volunteer with both veteran residents of the neighborhoods, and with asylum-seekers.  As part of the program, they learn about the complexity of this situation, that is harmful to both sides.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tikkun Olam en Francais!

Check out this post from Masa France's blog by recent Tikkun Olam grad Sophie Laloum, who joined the Coexistence Track from her community in Paris:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tikkun Olam 2011-12 Coming to a Close

Another hugely successful year of Tikkun Olam will be coming to a close next week.  We had our last overnight trip of the year to the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights, including a chocolate-making workshop (that got a bit messy), rafting on the Jordan River and a hike in the beautiful Jilabun stream.  We also had our last cultural evening of the year -- a tour of the Beer-D microbrewery in Jaffa with beer tasting.

Updates and pictures of all the end-of-the-year festivities are available on our Facebook page.

And there's still time to register for September - apply online now!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tikkun Olam and the Secular Yeshiva

A post from the blog of current Coexistence Track participant Rachel Smith, about studying at the Secular Yeshiva -- the south Tel Aviv home base of one of Tikkun Olam's organizing partners, BINA.
As part of my year on Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, I am learning in BINA’s secular yeshiva. A secular yeshiva. What does that even mean?
Answering that needs a bit of history first. The whole idea of BINA and the question of Jewish pluralism in Israel more broadly goes back to the Status Quo, which in Israel refers to the specific political agreement between the religious population and secular political parties to preserve the Jewish character of the state while allowing the secular to proceed as they wished. When Ben-Gurion made the agreement with the ultra-Orthodox back in 1947, it meant that Shabbat would be the Israeli day of rest, all state kitchens would be kosher, the Orthodox rabbinate would preside over all life-cycle events, and full educational autonomy for the religious. Today, it means that over 40,000 yeshiva students are exempt from army service. It means any wedding or Bris in Israel not presided over by an Orthodox rabbi is unrecognized. It means that there are tens of thousands of children going through ultra-Orthodox schools without knowledge of any non-religious subjects and therefore unable to join the workforce and contribute to the economy. Instead, they will drain the economy through government subsidies to continue studying in religious schools.
BINA is aimed at the secular Israeli population who sees Judaism as this Orthodox rabbi who doesn’t pay taxes or serve in the army. In Israel, either you’re secular, or you’re religious and by religious, they mean (ultra-)Orthodox. This leads to lots of semantic confusion. We say secular and we mean devoid of religion; they say secular and they mean non-Orthodox. But BINA is trying to change the images of both the religious and the secular, who are oppositely marked as somehow less, empty, heretical and hedonistic. BINA faces secular Israel and asks, “What is Judaism for you exactly? What does being a Jew mean to you?” It seeks a pluralistic Judaism, many answers to the same questions.
BINA was established following the assassination of Yitchak Rabin, which exposed the huge societal gaps between the religious and secular in Israel. But it was also a Jewish murder. As a result, it was a time when many secular Israelis questioned the Jewish narrative and value system. According to Eran Baruch, the Executive Director and Head of the Secular Yeshiva, the goal of BINA was to “create an institute for Jewish study and action where the conclusion won’t be to murder Rabin.”
For Baruch, Judaism means three things: loyalty to tradition, dynamic change, and a driving purpose/mission. This is reflected in the curriculum of the Secular Yeshiva, which combines study with social action through text study with local empowerment projects. The physical location of the yeshiva in Neve Sha’anan next to the Central Bus Station, one of the most plagued neighborhoods in the country, is deliberate. It is a reminder of the widow, the orphan, the blind, the homeless, the African refugee, a reminder of our commitment to action. They house programs like mine, like the high school/college gap year program, the Israeli pre-army preparatory program (Mechina), the army program that consists of study within army service (Gar’in), and the post-army program. Baruch sees successful graduates of these programs as “studying, being active in their community, keeping shabbat and holidays, and caring. I want them to care.”
Refugee seder
It wasn’t until recently that I realized how new and different BINA is. As a product of the conservative movement and American Judaism more generally, I always took Jewish pluralism for granted. I didn’t understand how unique American Judaism was until I came here and saw the polar opposites of Jewish identity in Israel. It’s sad in a way. That either you embrace religion fully and build your life around it or you denounce and ridicule those who do. BINA gives hope for those who have fallen in the chasm.
But BINA is the first of its kind and the increase in the number and diversity of its programs reflects a growing need in Israel. This past winter, a second secular yeshiva opened in Jerusalem. “Imagine ten secular yeshivas all over Israel in a decade,” Baruch tells us. “There will be a change. Maybe I’m too optimistic but sometimes you reach a tipping point and the situation in Israel is reaching a tipping point with the secular and Orthodox. It won’t be too long or too far.”

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sundays at Daycare -- New Tikkun Olam participant testimonial!

Current Social Action Track participant Tyler Fishbone wrote about his volunteering at an unrecognized day care center in south Tel Aviv, where he works with children of migrant workers and refugees.  Tyler's story is currently up on MASA's blog:

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tikkun Olam Group Immortalized in Google Street View!

This week, Israel became the newest country added to Google Street View.  Several cities had been photographed over the last several months -- including Jerusalem, where the Tikkun Olam group from last fall happened across the Google team as they were photographing the Old City.  Now that Street View in Israel has finally gone online, we can see that indeed, our blurry-faced Tikkun Olamers have become as much a part of the history of Jerusalem as King David or King Herod (ok, we might be going a bit overboard, but it's still kind of cool).

Check it out!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Participant Perspectives -- What I'm Doing Here

A blog post from current Social Action Track participant Tyler Fishbone, who comes to South Tel Aviv from St. Louis, MO.

I came here with Taglit-Birthright, which is a free 10-day program for Jewish youth to come to Israel and tour around the country.

I've now been living in Tel Aviv for 6 months, doing a program call Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, which means "repair the world" in Hebrew. I am living in a house with 7 other people: 4 Americans (2 New York, 1 Missouri (me), 1 Alabama), 1 Hungarian, 1 Israeli, 1 Brit, and 1 Danish guy whom I happily room with.

The program that I am doing consists of a combination of volunteering and learning about Judaism, Israel and its people. I spend 3 days a week volunteering at 5 different places, ranging from a daycare for babies of immigrant workers to a tandem bicycling program with disabled kids. I haven't officially started every program, but the ones I've done so far have been really challenging and fun.

The other two days are study days. There we spend the morning in classes learning to speak Hebrew, the official language of Israel. My Hebrew now is actually pretty good considering I've been here for such a short time. The toughest part of Hebrew is that the alphabet is completely new, so I don't have an easy way to conceptualize the words and commit them to memory. Spanish, my second language, at least uses the same set of letters so I can relate to it… no luck with Hebrew. It has been fun though.  I remember vividly after our first lesson walking outside and realizing that what had been registering as pretty decorations were actually words!!

After our Hebrew lessons we have two 1.5 hour classes each about Israeli culture, politics, and people. These are TREMENDOUSLY interesting. I realize now that I do not have much idea about Middle Eastern or Jewish culture or history. After each lesson I've honestly felt like I'd just gone through a "Matrix-like" download of information. On the whole the education that we are getting, and the organization that our program is inside, is pretty left. I had the feeling and it has been confirmed by the Israelis who are in the program with us, almost all of whom have recently finished their military service. They tend to get a little defensive when hearing criticisms of Israel, which is something I can definitely relate to as an American living abroad. In the end it seems that they are focusing on the humanitarian side of everything which I'd like to believe is where politics ends, so I'm cool with it.

Finally, as part of the program we do trips each month around Israel. Last week we went to different Bedouin villages in the south in the Negev Desert. Though Bedouins have been a nomadic people for thousands of years (literally camels in tents) they are now having to cope with a modernizing country. Their seemingly antiquated ways combined with being Arab in a Jewish state has made their lives extremely difficult. I think these trips will be a big time highlight.

Other than all the programming, Tel Aviv is a big city where everything is pretty close together… and it's located on a beach. Now that I have a bike it has opened up to me and I have been enjoying living here so much.

 Registration for 5 and 10 month programs beginning this September is open now.  Visit for more information and to get started on your application.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sharansky's Visit to Tikkun Olam!

Today, Tikkun Olam hosted Natan Sharansky for a visit in the Coexistence Track.  For those who don't know, Sharansky is the Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, a former member of Knesset, and probably most famously, was imprisoned in a Soviet work camp for 9 years for his activism in the "Refusenik" movement -- trying to enable Soviet Jews to escape and make Aliyah.  Today he visited the Coexistence group in their apartment to hear about the amazing work they're doing, and to visit one of their volunteering places.  Read more about Sharansky here.

Here's a picture of him with Ronald Reagan:

And, more excitingly, here's a picture of him with Tikkun Olamers:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Women's Empowerment in Jaffa

Sam, an alum of the last semester of Tikkun Olam's Coexistence Track, wrote up this excellent blog post about Safa Younes.  Safa runs "Aros El Bahar", a women's empowerment organization in Jaffa where some Tikkun Olam participants volunteer.  

Among the interesting tidbits:
Is coexistence a reality in Jaffa?
  • Sometimes no, I don’t always feel it. Sometimes people live here, but they are not really here. The rich people, in the new places. You can’t see them in the community because they work somewhere else. They come to live in the houses but aren’t a part of the community. But there are also Jewish people, some of them living here for years, who are involved in the activities in Jaffa, in groups, so we do see them. And they are trying to be  a part. And this is beautiful.

And we're accepting applications now for the 5 and 10 month Tikkun Olam programs beginning this September.  Live in Jaffa, get involved and help make coexistence a reality (you can even work with Safa) -- click here to learn more, and click here to get started on your application.