Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Peacocks and Improbability

Izi Silverstein, originally from Hotchkiss, Colorado is a current participant on Tikkun Olam's spring semester Internship Track. During the program Izi is volunteering with Beit Dror, a temporary home for LGBTQ youth, Kadima, an after-school center for at-risk youth from disadvantaged families, and at the Bat Yam Educational Farm.

After arriving two weeks ago in Tel Aviv, I can say without doubt that I had no idea just how absurd peacocks were until the last few days. A peacock in full array is an ostentatious display that’s practically comical to view. At nine in the morning, as I round the corner of Bina before class, I look to my left and I see Ruben, our track coordinator, and Jen, my roommate, standing on two plastic chairs, intently focused on the roof to our right. I turn to see the focus of their careful preoccupation, and lo and behold are three peacocks in the midst of courting.

            The male peacock’s feathers fan out proudly, but neither of the females seem to have any interest in his show. The display is put on at various angles for the next five minutes or so before he finally gets a response, by which time much of the rest of our group has shown up to watch the spectacle. As we are silently peering, trying not to alert the peacocks, I find myself marveling at the sheer absurdity of peacocks – how evolution shaped something so immeasurably beautiful and preposterous amazes me. 

            I sometimes feel like the peacock since arriving in Israel. I ended up here through a series of unpredictable turns, crazy last minute planning, and sheer good fortune. Honestly, I’m still in shock that I am actually here. But whatever mishaps of fate lead to the peacock and his display or to my arrival here, it is beautiful, and I am in awe.

            In the classes we have had up to this week, one particular message has stuck with me: When we speak of Jewish peoplehood, what does it mean to exist as a people with a 2,000 year continued narrative, and why does it matter? Whether or not you believe in the narrative of an unbroken lineage of Jews from biblical times until today, whether or not you hold to genetic testings or Torah as historical proof, the absurd reality is that as Jews today, we are continuing one of the most fascinating, complex cultures and religions to exist. Cultures and traditions formed in diaspora have intermingled here in Israel, and we now have in this country a situation very unlike anywhere else in the world. Just sticking to the ideas of a Jewish people living together (rather than attempting to delve into the incredible complexity of Israel as a state itself), Jews now are in a place to create and form a new intentional history, one that hopefully reflects the beauty of mitzvot and of the larger world that Judaism exists within. I’m not yet sure where I fit in that narrative, or how my time here can make a difference in the larger reality of Israel or of Jews, but I cannot wait to find out.

The past two weeks have served as an introduction to the program, Hebrew, and Tel Aviv – intensive ulpan, Jewish study, and tours of different volunteer organizations have filled my days from beginning to end. As the first non-orientation week begins, I am so excited to begin my own exploration and work here. I’m not sure yet what it is that I will find, or what I will accomplish, but however inexplicable it may be, I hope that it as beautiful and as wild as the peacock and its improbability.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

My Commitment to Social Change

Kylie Huberman, originally from Montreal, is a current participant on Tikkun Olam's  joint M.A. track  in Nonprofit Management with Hebrew University. During her time on the program Kylie is  interning at BINA: Center for Jewish identity and Hebrew Culture. 

At 22 years old, I’ve found myself in Israel for the sixth time. I try looking for opportunities to see other parts of the world but for some reason, I always end up back here. I came to Israel this time, to see the country in a way that I have yet to experience. I wanted to learn what it was like to live here and I wanted to learn how to not only experience more of the country that I’ve grown to love so much, but to struggle with it, defend it, stand up for it and criticize it all at the same time. In my fourth out of twelve months here (for now), I’ve accumulated a tremendous amount of information that has sent my emotions on a wild rollercoaster. My mind is expanding and my heart is too.

I am studying my Masters at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Nonprofit Management and Leadership. My previous experience and involvement within the Montreal Jewish Community has definitely prepared me for this field of study. With every concept I learn, I think about how it applies to all of the organizations I have been involved with. I also think about how I can utilize all of this new knowledge and implement these new skills back into society. Sometimes people don’t understand what I am doing. The reactions, rather confusion that I get from others comes in an assortment of questions: “Nonprofit? Oh.” “Why aren’t you studying for-profit management?” and my favourite “So is that what you want to do for the rest of your life?” The answer to the last question is absolutely yes. There is a stigma behind the term “non-profit”, and I have chosen to devote my life to changing it. The more my career path is questioned, the more determined I become. I have never been so sure about anything in my life. I have found my calling at a young age, and I am proud of that.

While I study, I am also taking part in a Masa program called Tikkun Olam. Tikkun Olam is a five or ten month program where participants intern and volunteer in an array of welfare-educational assignments throughout the city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. At the same time, they participate in a diversity of Jewish learning sessions covering topics such as: social justice, the history of the conflict, Jewish Identity and Jewish culture. A part of the program is to engage in day trips and overnight trips all over Israel. One of the most recent trips featured a visit to the Gaza border where a woman shared her personal experiences of what it is like to live in a neighbourhood where running to bomb shelters is a part of their routine. Tikkun Olam is a program created by BINA and the Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv. I am doing my internship at BINA, an organization that advocates and educates towards Jewish pluralism and social action by uniting Jewish people from all over the world. What I am enjoying most about this program is the endless amount of intricate conversations we have. The participants in the program (my very close friends) come from all different walks of life and each person brings something very unique to our ongoing discussions. We question the society in which we live and the way we can improve it. This is proof that my generation is full of people who want to understand the world and change it, for the better.

The more time I spend in the country under this learning capacity, the harder it gets to process my emotions. I am excited, confused, in love, frustrated, happy and curious – often at the same time. There is so much to understand about this beautiful place. One thing that I have learnt in my time here is that in terms of advocacy, the Diaspora has an even bigger role to play than the country of Israel itself. When I found out that Sarah, a woman whose brother and father were killed in a terrorist attack, invited the entire country to dance at her wedding, I felt inspired. I felt a real connection to the Jewish people of Israel. When my Rabbi decided he would fly in all the way from Montreal with 12 members of the congregation to attend the wedding, I was overwhelmed with happiness. I felt an even stronger connection to the Jewish people of Montreal. The reaction they received from the media, the locals and people from around the world was riveting. They were stopped in the streets and interviewed by many different newspapers. Because of this, I know that I have a duty to return and work at home. The Montreal Jewish community is a powerful one, and I know that I need to spread my love for Israel within it.

It has been an emotional few months, but I am enjoying every second of it.

Tel Aviv, where I live, is an up-and-coming, exciting city, which I might even see myself living in for a period of my life, but Montreal and my Jewish community will always be my home.