Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Time at the GA

Carrie Collister is a 10-month Internship Track participant from Wisconsin. During her time on Tikkun Olam, she is interning at the Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism.
Carrie was chosen to be part of the Masa delegation to the Jewish Federations of North America's General Assembly. Here, she writes about her experience at the conference.

I was lucky enough to be selected from the thousands of Masa participants, living and volunteering in Israel, to be one of 50 Masa delegates at The Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly[i]. This year’s GA[ii] was held in Jerusalem making it quite easy for the young leaders of tomorrow to attend. Below is a brief account my time in Jerusalem – November 7-12th.
Masa Delegation
Masa Delegation - Carrie is in the last row, 3rd from right. Simi Adler, another Tikkun Olam participant, is in the last row, 2nd from left. 
As I stepped off the bus in Jerusalem, as the sun was setting on November 7th I was unsure what to expect from the next five days. I knew little about Federations, having spent my Jewish life is very small communities, one which had a small Federation I had never engaged with (or had not engaged with me depending how one looks at it) and then in a town that was home to one congregation. Would it feel like I was drinking the cool-aid, so to speak, if I feel in love with this institution of Jewish outreach and engagement? Only time would tell…..
The first two days were dedicated primarily to preparing the Masa delegation for the events we would be attending during the GA. I was not the only representative that was not entirely sure what a federation was and what exactly they did. To be honest, I knew they were some kind of community Jewish group that fundraised (and did something else) aka they like people with money; I saw it as, I don’t have money so they aren’t overly interested in dealing with me. During our prep time, we were introduced to Jewish Agency & Federation leaders to try to better understand their organizations and for them to meet and hear from current Masa participants. We also heard from a few heads of Federations in America. It was interesting to learn more about what goes on with Federations ranging from small to the largest in America. Although most have to focus to some extend on fundraising, they also focus on programs to improving the lives of Israelis, education both in and outside of Israel, Jewish Identity, elderly care around the world and ultimately being a second home for Jews in the communities.
One of our prep sessions was led by Robbie Gringras from Makom, an initiative of the Jewish Agency for Israel, which trains leaders and creates educational content to embrace the vibrant complexity of Israel: The People and the Place. Robbie was highly engaging as he spoke to us about the Makom matrix and the ways Makom is looking to change how young diaspora Jews see Israel (side note- I believe the matrix works well for anyone to see where they are at & for educational leaders for all levels work to bring people to a high res-inside place.)
Because of this initial time with Robbie, one of my favorite events was the MAKOM Global Jewish Forum- Moving Israel Education held the morning before the Opening Plenary. We spent a great deal of time examining the Matrix in the Plenary, through viewing interviews of high school students who attended Jewish Day School in the US and Australia in which they were asked about how they saw their Jewish Identity and its connection to Israel.
The MAKOM Matrix
The MAKOM Matrix
Driven from multiple angles; including not only the changes within Israel in recent decades, changes in Jewish identity, and the rate of information exchange, think Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Makom sees a need in for change to occur within Israel education. Makom is focusing on “reimagining the way we aim for our young people to relate to Israel.” Examining the Makom matrix with us beforehand, Robbie explained their most basic goal is to get people into the high-resolution/inside quadrant. Instead of seeing ones connection to Israel merely as outside (no affection for Israel) or inside (affection for Israel) they added the dimension of High resolution & Low resolution. Example –““Low-resolution” would suggest that green is green. “High-resolution” on the other hand, allows for green to break down into its component parts and become blue and yellow. And Hamas. And Environmental Issues. And Egged buses. And Maccabi Haifa soccer club. And and… The higher the resolution, the more knowledge, detail and nuance…” [iii] I know since my arrival in Israel and beginning Tikkun Olam, I have moved further into Hi-Res. Between my classes and day trips with Tikkun Olam, I have been gaining a better understanding of the complexity of Israel and her people. This way of looking at things really resounded with me and my goals for educating those around me and hopefully someday those in the congregation/federation/JCC/day school/Hillel that I work in.
The Grand Opening of the JFNA’s GA featured Israel’s current Prime Minter, Benjamin Netanyahu, and with that we were officially underway in our delegate responsibilities. The main events on Monday included an option to select from 20+ sessions held at three different times. I attended the following sessions; Crowdsourcing and Crowdfunding: Harnessing the Power of the People, 1967 versus 2013: How to Effectively Speak Out for Israel in a Changing World and Many Shades of Black: Insights into the Haredi World.  My goal was to get out of my comfort zone and attend sessions I wasn’t automatically drawn to, i.e. about issues I already knew a good amount about. I have to say, I think I accomplished this.  The next day was a fast paced, first visiting Hebrew Union College and then onto visiting a school with students enrolled in The Azrieli Institute for Educational Empowerment. We were then bused to the final event of the GA.
Carrie with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, current president of the URJ
Carrie with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, current president of the URJ
At the closing celebration, in Jerusalem’s Safra Square, we heard from Naftali Bennett, Natan Sharansky and Nir Barkat. Most in attendance then walked through Jerusalem’s Old City, in Jewish Unity to the Kotel.  The most moving part was walking down to Azart Yisrael, the temporary egalitarian section of the Kotel. Azart Yisrael is a bridge to a permanent solution to ensure all Jews can pray at the wall in a way that is meaningful to them. It was an amazing experience to pray here. I was lucky enough to run into Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, standing in the section. By the end of day five I was relatively exhausted but going from dawn to dusk (usually much later) will do that to most young people.
Israeli President S. Peres as seen from our amazing seats in row 4!
Israeli President S. Peres as seen from our amazing seats in row 4!
Overall highlights included a scavenger hunt through the shuk with representatives from the Jewish Agency for Israel as well as some leaders of Federations from the US, seeing and hearing from; a Prime Minister, a President, an Israeli party leader, a leading Haredi journalist, a mayor, a US Ambassador, young leaders in the crowd sourcing & funding world as well as multiple EVPs and CEOs of North American Federations. It was also amazingly delightful to connect with other ‘High-Res’ Masa participants from around the world, with different ways of expressing their Judaism, now living in vastly different places in Israel. I learned much about Federations and about myself and how I can continue on my Jewish journey. I know that no matter where I end up, from Federation to Temple, JCC to Hillel, this GA will impact the work I do.

Horsing around with our fearless leader, Yonatan Barkan, Masa’s Director of Academic Programs.
Horsing around with our fearless leader, Yonatan Barkan, Masa’s Director of Academic Programs.
Final Note: Now I would not want anyone reading this to think no one at the GA spoke or expressed concerned about the Pew Study. To be frank I heard more hashing and rehashing of the Pew study then I care to share. The interesting thing is I don’t actually think we (the larger Jewish community as a whole) honestly learned anything we didn’t already know from Pew. I didn’t feel my time would be best focused on Pew and as I mentioned early I was attending session that would push me.

[i] The JFNA in its own words:
The Jewish Federations of North America represents 153 Jewish Federations and over 300 Network communities, which raise and distribute more than $3 billion annually for social welfare, social services and educational needs. The Federation movement, collectively among the top 10 charities on the continent, protects and enhances the well-being of Jews worldwide through the values of tikkun olam (repairing the world), tzedakah (charity and social justice) and Torah (Jewish learning).   http://www.jewishfederations.org/about-us.aspx
[ii] The JFNA’s explanation of the GA:
The General Assembly (GA) is the premier annual North American Jewish conference, attracting Federation lay leaders and professionals as well as the leadership of The Jewish Federation of North America’s partner organizations and other important national Jewish organizations. It’s an event that inspires and engages current and emerging Jewish leaders, tackles the most critical issues of the day, and showcases the best of the Federation movement. The GA plenaries, forums and workshops feature top speakers from the political, business and non-profit realms. http://www.jewishfederations.org/about-us.aspx

Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Peace is a Process"

Robert Venezia is currently interning at The Peres Center for Peace Sports department. He is working on their Twinned Schools Football project. Here he blogs about his experience at the project's first training seminar.

This past weekend I attended my first joint training football camp. We had about forty high-school aged Israeli and Palestinian girls attending this camp at Kibbutz Dorot, very close to the Israeli border with Gaza. The program they are part of is called the Twinned Schools Program, which brings together girls of the same age group from one school in Israel and one school in Palestine to play sports (mostly football) together. The Israeli girls were from the city of Kiryat Gat and they had experienced Qassam Rocket fire over the past few years.  The Palestinian girls were from the city of Jericho in the West Bank. 

Robbie with two of the football camp participants

The first thing that we did was introduction activities, which involved ice-breaker games to allow the girls to get to know each other. After the ice-breaker activity, we went to lunch and that is when I saw that I had a large hurdle to jump. The girls did not interact with each other; they only talked to the girls from their group. The Israelis only talked to the Israeli and the Palestinians only talked to the Palestinians. This was a bit disconcerting, because I had thought that the girls would come together and would interact and thus peace would be achieved. That was a pretty na├»ve thing to believe, because nothing in life worth accomplishing is ever that easy. 

The girls playing football together
The one thing that the girls all seemed to enjoy was the music of Justin Bieber and football (soccer). When the girls began playing “Fair-play” football you could see that Nelson Mandela was right in a sense when he said, “Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.” The girls did not seem to care who was Palestinian or Israeli, they saw only their teammate, and they only wanted to win. When they scored, they hugged each other. The girls did not see race or religion, they only saw their teammate.  Mandela’s quote was proven partially correct in what I witnessed.  Sure, the girls before and after the football game did not interact much, but on the field they did. 

The bloodthirsty game of Bingo
Throughout the rest of the camp, we did Yoga together, a drawing activity, and played games together. The most excited the girls got, however, was when we played Bingo. On an aside, I never remember Bingo being a game that involved yelling and fierce competition, but that was the case with the girls. They were in teams of two, one Israeli and one Palestinian, and even though they did not speak the same language, I saw that they felt a connection. 

This blog took me a while to write, because I was unsure of how to state the conclusion. I realize that my participation in the Twinned Schools Program will not get me a Nobel Peace Prize and that peace will not happen tomorrow due to my efforts. Human beings are not very patient, they want immediate results and thus cannot wait for change to slowly happen. My friend and former professor Sam Mustafa once told me, “peace is a ‘process.’ It's not an end-state or a simple goal. It's an ongoing relationship that requires constant action and maintenance. It's not to be found in any treaty or agreement, but rather in a state of mind.” I believe that this is true, and programs like the Twinned Schools can make the dream of peace a reality.   You have to have trust in peace and the process of trust begins with getting to know someone. The personal connection is the most important in breaking down barriers. There is no problem with the process of peace starting with football, because it has to start somewhere. A month ago, on Yom Rabin, I asked what Rabin’s legacy was and I think I have now realized what it was. His legacy lives on in everyone who was inspired by him to achieve peace and do things, both large and small to make his dream, that he died for, a reality. I feel that this is why I came to Israel.      

Israeli and Palestinian girls holding up a sign that says in Hebrew and Arabic the Path to Peace.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Robert's Israel Journey

Robert Venezia is a 5-month participant on the Internship Track. As well as interning three days a week at the Peres Center for Peace twin-soccer program, and participating in the other segments of the Tikkun Olam program, Robert has managed to visit an impressive number of places all around the country in his first two months here! 

Robert has made this video filled with his memories of many special locations in Israel, proving that if you take the initiative, it is possible to achieve and experience a lot in a short time! 

We look forward to seeing what Robbie manages to achieve in his next three months here!! 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Yitzhak Rabin - A Soldier of Peace

Robert Venezia, a 5-month Jaffa track participant from New Jersey, shares his thoughts surrounding the anniversary of the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.

On the night of November 4, 1995 in the center of Tel Aviv, a peace rally was held in Kings of Israel Square and over 100,000 Israelis attended, including the Prime Minister of Israel at the time, Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin even sung the popular Israeli song of peace Shir LaShalom. For many of the previous weeks Rabin was called a traitor and a Nazi, because he had agreed in principle to make peace with the Palestinians. He also made peace with the country of Jordan the year before. To many settlers and their supporters, Rabin was selling them out and was turning over the holy land of Israel to their enemy. Many Israeli politicians did nothing to stop the incitement against Rabin and the country of Israel became deeply divided. As he was leaving the rally a right-wing extremist named Yigal Amir fired three bullets at Rabin, two of which hit him. Rabin was rushed to the hospital, but died less than an hour later. The assassination scared Israel, because it was a Jew who had killed one of their political leaders. The incitement against Rabin was not tamped down, and many politicians who did not agree with Rabin’s goals did nothing to stop the comparison of him to a Nazi. In America being called a Nazi is insulting, now just imagine a Jewish leader being called a Nazi, it’s so much worse.

However, in killing Rabin, Amir did in a sense accomplish his goal - the peace process died with Rabin.  Peace has been close, but no Israeli politician has had the military credentials that Rabin had and been trusted to make peace. It has been 18 years since Amir killed Rabin and there is still not peace in the Middle East. Since 1995, Israeli settlements have grown, Palestinians have fired rockets and launched suicide attacks inside of Israel, and people on both sides are still crying for their dead. Rabin's friend King Hussein of Jordan said at his funeral, “You lived as a soldier; you died as a soldier for peace.” Rabin was indeed a soldier of peace and it cost him his life. 

Now I enjoyed attending a rally to honor a personal hero of mine, 18 years after his life was ended. His life was ended before he was able to accomplish the goal that he ended up giving up his life for - Peace. Now, the question remains what is Rabin’s legacy and how will it be achieved? Is Rabin’s legacy going to be of what might have been if he had not been killed? Will we remember decades later, what would have happened had Rabin not been assassinated? Or will Rabin live on in those in this generation who strive to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians? Rabin, when he won the Nobel Peace Prize, said, “"And so we are determined to do the job well -- despite the toll of murderous terrorism, despite the fanatic and cruel enemies of peace. We will pursue the course of peace with determination and fortitude. We will not let up. We will not give in. Peace will triumph over all its enemies, because the alternative is grimmer for us all. And we will prevail." So we as the next generation must strive to make Rabin’s legacy complete, by achieving peace and an end to discrimination and racism in Israel.

The poster at the Rabin Rally
Remembering the murder. Pursuing democracy. 

The rally on October 12, 2013 in Rabin Square, which was renamed after the assassination to honor Rabin, was incredible and according to police drew over 30,000 people. The vast majority of those in attendance were young people who were very young or not alive when Rabin was killed. This is a great sign, because it shows that the next generation desires peace just as Rabin did. The rally started with Israeli singer Shiri Maimon singing Shir LaShalom the Song for Peace, which Rabin himself sung the night he was killed. In fact, at the Rabin Museum there is a bloodstained copy of Shir LaShalom which Rabin was singing from, the night he was assassinated.  Every one of the speakers made their speech in Hebrew, but luckily we found our Ulpan teacher Elliot who translated the speeches for the Americans in attendance. Yair Tzaban, who served as Minister of Immigrant Absorption during Rabin's premiership, blasted those politicians who did nothing to speak out against the incitement that was occurring by Rabin’s opponents. Hadassah Froman, the wife of the late Rabbi Menachem Froman who strived to make co-existence with Israelis and Palestinians, said, "striving for peace is the lifeblood of this country and will that Israel will continue to seek peace despite those killing and conspiring against it." This land, she added, does not absolve "those who shed the blood of the innocent."  I found the most compelling and moving speaker to be Rabin’s grandson Yonatan Ben Artzi, who asked the current Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu to honor his late grandfather by making peace with the Palestinians.  He said, "My grandfather was murdered over peace and you owe this peace to us, to all of us.” I was grateful to be in attendance with 30,000 Israelis rallying for peace and honoring one of my political heroes. 

Some of the Tikkun Olam participants at the rally


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Tikkun Olam 2013-14 Begins!

Elana White, a 5-month Internship Track participant from the Bay Area, talks about her highlights of the beginning of the program. 


I have now settled into my apartment in Yafo (Jaffa), Tel Aviv. I live with 3 other people in my apartment and then other people in my program live across the hall and upstairs. There are 13 of us here in Yafo which is about half of the total participants. (The other half live in South Tel Aviv.) After we started our program we were instantly whisked away for the first couple days to a kibbutz near Eilat and the Jordan border called Kibbutz Ketura. We got to know each other really well and went on a beautiful walk in the desert where we did some reflection. Then almost as soon as we got back to Yafo it was Yom Kippur (the day of atonement).
Location of Kibbutz Ketura

View at sunset facing the Arava Valley

Yom Kippur was really an incredible experience. A bunch of us went to Kol Nidre (services on the evening of Yom Kippur) on top of a roof in Tel Aviv. It was a bit of an alternative service, but so beautiful at sunset. Afterwards there was a discussion in English about forgiveness and Yom Kippur. We read a section from the Talmud and then debated it, which was extremely interesting. Overall I learned that forgiveness is for both the one who wants to be forgiven and the forgiver. It is a process that is not mentally easy to go through. Judaism places a huge emphasis on the NOW rather than what will happen in the future, which I find very interesting. I’m glad that I was able to do something that felt meaningful for Yom Kippur.

On the actual day of Yom Kippur, my friend Rachel and I went to morning services at an egalitarian minyan nearby. It was nice to see a female rabbi and a community that seemed accepting, especially in Israel, which can be hard to find. Afterwards we walked through the old city of Yafo and up to Tel Aviv by way of the promenade by the beach. Now the cool thing about Yom Kippur in Israel is that everything is closed and there are absolutely no cars on the streets. You can walk in the middle of any major road and not be worried for your life and stuff. In fact people use the opportunity to ride their bikes or even play cricket (as we saw today) in the middle of the street. That was definitely an experience.

Right now we are on Sukkot break. Before it started on Wednesday evening, we were in intensive Hebrew study for 4 hours every day. It was a lot, but I think my Hebrew is improving a little bit. Words are starting to come easier. That being said, I still have a LONG way to go until I can speak Hebrew as well as I want to. This time, before our internships and volunteering begin, has been really nice for getting to know the other people in my program. I’ve already made some close friends, and the people in my program seem extremely genuine.

I’m discovering that I live in a very central area. I’m right next to one of the main streets in Yafo, a 15 minute walk from the beach, and a short bus ride into the center of Tel Aviv (or less than an hour’s walk). My neighborhood is diverse and safe. When I was in the grocery store, I noticed all kinds of people: Ethiopians, Arabs, Muslims, religious Jews, secular Jews…Really anyone you can imagine (in Israel) is near my neighborhood. Additionally, there is a Mosque extremely close to my house, so 5 times a day (if we’re in the apartment) we can hear the call to prayer, which is a cool and almost majestic experience for me.

Today I went for a bike ride from Yafo to the beach in Tel Aviv, which was about 30 minutes. Now, I just learned how to ride a bike in July, so I’m still pretty bad at it. A couple of my friends from my apartment building took me out though, and were supportive and helpful the whole way, which was great. Though I fell a couple times, it was still an incredible experience for me. The bruises were worth the freedom that I felt while riding. As long as it’s a big path and no one makes sudden movements, I’m fine.

And this was our view on the way back. How can I complain?

Overall, I am LOVING living here. I feel so blessed and privileged to have this experience and appreciate being given the opportunity, not to mention the support from my family and friends. Yes this is my Oscar speech.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tikkun Olam in the Jerusalem Post

Current Tikkun Olam Coexistence Tack participant Lara Robinson wrote about her experience living in Jaffa and in Israel, in a piece that appeared in yesterday's Jerusalem Post.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tikkun Olamer and Combatants for Peace on Israel's Memorial Day

by Rachel Rothendler, current Coexistence Track participant

The author (right) on a Tikkun Olam hiking trip

Israel has been my home for seven months now as I study and volunteer with Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.  Joining the Coexistence Track in Jaffa, I knew I wanted to be part of the efforts to encourage dialogue among the Arab and Jewish populations there and among Palestinians and Israelis on a larger scale.  I did not know what form I wanted this work to take, however, until the heightened conflict between Israel and Gaza last November.  This period was so difficult for me, not because I was constantly in fear for my physical safety, but because of the outright fear and unconditional hate I witnessed on all sides, as well as because of the countless misrepresentations and misconceptions caused by the mass media.  I did not know then where to direct the anger and frustration I felt at the things happening around me.  

At about the same time, I began a course as part of my program that dealt with state laws and human rights groups in Israel, sparking my interest in NGOs committed to peace activism in the region.  Soon after, I was introduced to the group Combatants for Peace, a multi-national NGO that promotes mutual understanding between Israelis and Palestinians through joint volunteer activities, tours, lectures, film screenings, etc.  What struck me most about the group was not their political platform, but their commitment to belief in a reality for both Israelis and Palestinians different from the one lived today.  Now there was a concept I could hold onto.  

Currently, I am helping to fundraise for CFP’s 8th annual Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony in Tel Aviv on April 14th.  The goal of this event is to bring the two sides together to both acknowledge each other’s losses and to share in mourning, and in so doing, to promote a dialogue of peace.  I hope that others in Israel and Palestine as well as in the international sphere will share in my and Combatants for Peace’s efforts to realize a different reality for people here.  The Memorial Day event is open to the public, and donations are still welcome!  We hope to raise 40,000 NIS (~$10,000) by the time of the event.  Please see the links below for more information.  THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!!!

More information on the event: http://cfpeace.org/?cat=7&story_id=3611
The official Facebook event page: http://www.facebook.com/events/455284221217648/
Combatants for Peace's website: http://cfpeace.org/

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Introducing: Tikkun Olam Internship Track!

We are proud to introduce the new Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa Internship Track!

Tikkun Olamer Sarah assists pregnant asylum seekers and refugees at Hagar and Miriam

The Internship Track is your chance gain valuable career experience in the non-profit sector by interning for 5 or 10 months with an organization serving disadvantaged communities in south Tel Aviv and Jaffa.  Choose between organizations working towards Arab-Jewish coexistence; advocating for disabled and special-needs populations; providing services to refugees from Darfur and other parts of Africa; and much more!

Tikkun Olam's Internship Track was designed specifically for non-profit internships.  As a Tikkun Olam intern, you'll get a complete experience -- you'll live amongst the communities that you serve; you'll learn about the issues facing those communities specifically, and Israeli society as a whole; you'll enjoy seminars on social entrepreneurship and get to know different non-profits all over Israel; and you'll do it all alongside Israeli peers -- Tikkun Olam is the ONLY Masa program where you live and learn with Israelis!

We'll also be highlighting a different internship each day this week and next on our Facebook page.  So head over there and give us a LIKE to keep updated!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Volunteering in Tikkun Olam

Current Coexistence Track participant Yael Kurganoff from Chicago, recently blogged about her volunteering placements in Tikkun Olam.  To have an experience like Yael's starting this September, get started on your application now on our website.

A few weeks ago, we finished the orientation period and started our regular schedule. We volunteer three days a week ( Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday), have two study days (Monday and Thursday) and then we have the weekend off (Which here is Friday and Saturday).  I am happy to report that I got all the placements I wanted :)

Sunday was my first day volunteering. One of them is still in the works, so I only went to the Elderly Center, which was a lot of fun. Everyone was speaking to me only in Hebrew, which was good but I was a little lost sometimes :) 

On Monday we had our first full day of classes, which included three hours of Hebrew, a Coexistence Track meeting, lunch and two classes- Jewish Peoplehood, and Social Justice in the Jewish Texts (with everyone). It was a long day, but I found both classes to be quite interesting.

Yesterday was my first day at the Shachaf Center (which I am going to be at twice a week). This is the center where kindergarten classes come once a month to learn about the environment and being green. Yesterday was a prep day, so we just got ready for the new month of activities. The women are so wonderful that work there! That evening, I finally got to walk the Tayelet (the boardwalk) from the Jaffa port to the Tel Aviv port. It was a long walk (like 2 hours) but it was great, minus the wind and we got to see a beautiful sunset along the way. We topped it off with going to Max Brenner (a fantastic chocolate place).

Sunset over the Tel Aviv Marina

Today was absolutely AMAZING! I am so happy at the Shachaf Center! Each day there are two sessions (two different classes) with a break in the middle, where the four women and I sat and ate and talked. The morning class was a special needs Jewish school. After a little presentation, they had all these different stations outside (looking at the tadpoles, looking for bugs, painting water colors with feathers etc). The kids were SOOOO adorable. The second group was from an Arab School. That was interesting, because I was not really able to interact with the kids as much as I was with the first group, since I do not speak Arabic. I know I will learn some words eventually :) The last thing I have today is tutoring at an Arab school (which I am headed to soon).

Besides these three volunteer sites, I will be doing the Jaffa Lacrosse once a week as well as Mesilla, which is a unrecognized preschool for migrant worker's kids.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Tikkun Olam Empowerment! Coexistence in Jaffa

Leilani Albin, a 10-month coexistence track participant, writes about her experiences volunteering at Aros El Bahar, an organization dedicated to women's empowerment among the Arab population in Jaffa.  

Applications are open now for Tikkun Olam's 5 and 10-month programs beginning in September 2013.  Visit www.tikkunolamisrael.org/apply-now to get started!


A little while after I arrived on the Tikkun Olam Coexistence Track, I began my work volunteering at an NGO dedicated to empowering the women of Tel Aviv-Yafo. It is run by both Jewish and Arab women, and strives to give underprivileged women of Yafo a place where they can have a support system, feel safe, come to learn, and be part of a close community. Women go there for any number of the services offered including mentoring, entrepreneurial guidance, job placement, support groups, computer classes, Arabic classes, and now English classes. In addition to offering a support system and classes, the center teamed up with an Israeli designer and created a unique line of plush dolls called “Jaffa Dolls.” A group of women who attend the center make the dolls and when they are sold the women receive a portion of the profit. The dolls have become tremendously successful and at the launch that was held at the end of last year they sold out of their entire stock. As a side project in addition to my teaching efforts, I have begun helping to find stores that will sell the dolls Internationally and am working to create a network for sales in the US.


A couple of months ago when I first met with the women who wished to take an English class, I asked them why they wanted to learn English and what they wanted to use it for. Their answers ranged from wanting to start a small business, to having the desire to be able to give people directions in English when asked. The women had all different backgrounds and were at all different levels in their English speaking abilities. I found a middle ground, and began teaching the women using topics that were of interest to them. First conversational skills, then foods, restaurant topics, menus and ordering, travel, and directions. They are very excited to begin geography next week.

The women who attend classes at Arous Elbahar come from difficult backgrounds and have not led easy lives. It is wonderful for them to have this place that they can go for support and to learn, but as I have worked with them I often see the leftover effects from the difficult lives they have. One of my students is often absent from class and her face is full of sadness… she refuses to talk about her home life, and the women often console her when she declines to mention what is wrong. Some women bring their children to class with them, because they cannot afford daycare or a babysitter… they always apologize because they feel as though they are disrupting the lesson, but I always tell them that it’s great to have the children in the room with us. Sometimes I worry that if they feel the children are not welcome in class they will stop coming. In actuality, I think that when the kids are in the room everyone smiles and laughs a little more, and it brightens the day.


I have one student who’s dream is to teach English in a school in Yafo. She never misses a class, and shows up excited to learn every week. She was moving at a faster pace than the rest of the class, and had completed a higher level in English while in University, so I have begun tutoring her on the side… we meet after class and I give her additional homework assignments that focus on separate topics than what I teach in the classes. The more I give her and teach her, the more empowered she seems.

The experience that I have had teaching English has been so rewarding over these past few months, that I have begun seeking additional volunteer placements in this field.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Tikkun Olam in Action: Working with Refugees in South Tel Aviv

Sarah Mednick, a 10-month Social Action Track participant from upstate New York, has been volunteering at Hagar and Miriam.  The organization provides guidance and support for pregnant refugees from Eritrea, Darfur and other parts of Africa, who live in south Tel Aviv.  Below, Sarah tells about her amazing initiative to make the organization work more efficiently!

There are still a few spaces left for Tikkun Olam's 5-month Spring program starting February 12!  Click here to register now and have incredible volunteering experiences like Sarah this Spring!

This Wednesday at Hagar & Miriam we finally received our ‘next steps’ and ‘intake’ forms in Tigrinya, the language spoken in Eritrea. (99% of the women we see are from Eritrea and don’t speak much English or Hebrew). This will literally change my life. Why? So many reasons!
When I first started doing intakes, we had to write down by hand the next thing that each woman had to do. This took about 10 minutes per woman, since often they had to do a lot of things. Additionally, almost none of them can read English or Hebrew, so they didn’t understand and we had to find someone to help explain it to them. This took time as well. There was no standard form to give them that said “here’s what you do now.” We just let them go. Also, we spent about 10 minutes with each woman at the beginning of the intake trying to determine her age, where she’s from, how many months pregnant, etc. A few weeks ago, I wrote up a special intake form for the women to fill out while they wait, so we can get past the basic info in 30 seconds and take more time to really talk to them.
These forms literally changed my life as a volunteer. Also, I started using them the week that my friend Clara joined me for intakes. She does such a fabulous job keeping the women in line, determining if they even need to see me, and making sure I that go quickly with each client so I can see more of them. Together, we have made serious headway in making Hagar & Miriam more efficient.
But even with the forms in English, we still needed someone who speaks Tigrinya to help them understand where we’ve directed them to go. There are two Eritrean nurses who volunteer on Wednesdays, but they are stretched so thin that they certainly don’t have time to speak to every woman we see. So I’ve been working with another Eritrean volunteer the past few weeks to translate the forms. On Wednesday, we got them. We also printed out maps of where certain doctors’ offices are so they can just give the sheet to a cab driver if they can’t figure out the location on their own. Here are photos!
Johnny from Eritrea. He helps us out on ocassion. Here's him with the completed translation.
Johnny from Eritrea. He helps us out on occasion. Here’s him with the completed translation.
Clara cutting and gluing to make it all one sheet. Almost there!
Clara cutting and gluing to make it all one sheet. Almost there!

I think (I hope) that the women will appreciate these new developments!
I think that the women will appreciate these new developments!
Now we can give each woman a sheet containing information on pre-natal vitamins, health insurance, doctors’ offices, and blood test locations all in her native language. We highlight the things she needs to do and can be sure that she will do them. She can also now fill out the initial intake form in her native language, so that she doesn’t need any help from English speakers. This means that she’ll answer all of the questions correctly, and won’t leave any questions blank. Not only does this make the volunteers’ lives so much easier, not only does it mean that they are more likely to get the right care, it means that maybe they can feel a little more empowered in the whole process.
I love my job.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

True Coexistence in Tel Aviv-Jaffa

Recently a classic Tikkun Olam reflection from Tikkun Olam alumna Abigail Winard appeared on the Masa: Israel Journey blog.  Read the full story here, and here's a small taste:

"At Hassan Araffe, a school located in the neighborhood of Ajami, I taught English to fifth and sixth graders who also studied Hebrew and Arabic daily as well.  Jewish teachers worked to instill within Muslim and Christian students a sense of pride and encouragement in developing their English skills. Seeing a young Jewish man wearing a yarmulke lean over to a young Muslim girl to help her with an English assignment presented the epitome of coexistence."