December 28, 2012

I’m writing this post (for this first time in way too long, my apologies) while sitting in the airport lounge waiting for my flight. Where to, might you ask? Home. Good old Palo Alto, to finally visit my friends, my family, my dog, Peanut, and Chipotle. I should be excited. Everyone keeps on telling me how excited I should be. And I probably am, somewhere deep down inside; I’ll probably have a panic attack of excitement once I land in Newark, but for right now, I’m trying to think of ways to not get on the plane. It hasn’t been an easy month, and if someone would have offered me two weeks ago to drop everything and hop back to the US of A, I would have done it in a heartbeat. But since then, something changed. I’m not sure if it’s because my coming home is now a reality rather than a dream, or if it’s the fact that this last week was one of the best of the whole year so far. It could also possibly be that on my last night in the komuna, my suitemates gave me a photo album of the year until now and wrote me individual letters to read on the plane (LOVE YOU ALL). Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s temporary, and I’m being home will be awesome. But let me explain why it’s so hard for me to leave.

When I came here, five months ago to the day, I abandoned everything, more than the average 18-year-old American does. I didn’t just leave my home and my friends—I left my language, my time zone, my half of Planet Earth. It was hard, but it was also the greatest decision of my life, and I have spent every second since completely immersed in it. That’s the thing, though. In the past five months, I have come nowhere near to anything that resembles Palo Alto, California. I made new friends, reconnected with old family, found a new home. And it’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that for two whole weeks, I will be as disconnected from them as I have been from America. 

One could say that this last month has been chaotic. I could try to summarize everything I did and didn’t do, but I both can’t think of a good way to do so and don’t see its significance. So let’s just focus on this week.

I’ve talked a lot about Guatemala, the elementary school I volunteer at, and gone into depth about one of the kids I work with on a regular basis, but this week I saw a huge change in another one—one who I’ve been having an incredibly hard time with lately. His name is Ayano, and he is a fourth grader with an enormous heart and an insane amount of artistic talent. He is also problematic, with a tendency to disrupt his class and talk back to all authority. I dreaded my hours with Ayano, because they rarely actually lasted an hour. He treated me with no respect, wouldn’t cooperate, and frequently swore at me as I tried to help him with his work. We were told at the beginning of the year never to tolerate this kind of behavior, so like clockwork I would reluctantly send him back to class, whether it was in the last fifteen minutes of the hour or in the first ten ones. But this week, this week I met an entirely different Ayano. I was presented with a kid who taught me how to play a new game without malice or anger, who, though he didn’t want to, sat and did his work, and who told me about his family while he asked about mine. Words cannot express how incredible it was to see that transformation. I don’t know if its temporary or if it’s his previous behavior that was out of the ordinary; regardless, it amazed me.

Another amazing thing that happened this week was the fact that I got to see my no-longer-that-little little brother. It was awesome. For those of you who don’t know me, I love that kid to pieces, and this was the first time in our lives that we had been apart for so long. He landed in the holy land on Monday afternoon, so we celebrated Christmas Eve over Chinese food and a movie (Pitch Perfect if you were wondering, I absolutely loved it), after which he came and stayed with me, witnessing firsthand what Shnat Sherut is all about. He came along to both of the schools I volunteer at and to the Tzofim, where the students and campers absolutely fawned over him. It was both exciting and upsetting, because on one hand, it was adorable, and on the other, nobody wanted to work with me :(. The other great thing about his visit is the fact that my komuna is now getting to know my family better and better—they’ve now met and loved three out of the four other members of the Palmon clan (hi Noa, you’re coming)—and I’m feeling less and less “that American girl”. In fact, people have begun being surprised to find out that I lived in the states for so long because my accent has improved so much. So that’s todays happy thought.

Now I’d better get off because this blog post has taken ages to write and I’m already in Newark (woohoo America!). To my Americans: I’ll see you incredibly soon. To my Israelis: download Skype.

Until next time, Yael

November 25, 2012

First of all, I want to say thank you for the incredible response I got for my last post. It’s strange to think that just last week I was writing about Hamas and missles and red alerts when it’s no longer on my mind. It’s so commonplace here that as soon as the drama subsides, everybody goes back to their day to day lives—as if it never happened at all.

The past week has been full of incredibly strange experiences, and has really shown me the magic of being an independent and sometimes-adventurous eighteen year old girl. As you all know, Thankgiving was on Thursday, but I—being, you know, in a different country—completely forgot. I was reminded, in fact, by an American girl who moved to my town exactly a week ago and joined the Sherut Leumi program here (which replaces the army for Orthodox girls), when she invited me to come along with her to her sister’s house in Alon to celebrate. I didn’t really know this girl (but she seemed nice!) or her sister, or where Alon even was, but what the heck, it was Thanksgiving. So I went. 

The night started off with us missing our bus. And then getting lost. I soon realized that Alon isn’t actually in Jerusalem, it’s a settlement about forty minutes away. Needless to say it was a stressful experience for me. But the girl I was with (her name is Rachi) remained cool as a cucumber and eventually I mellowed down to her level, which was the right thing to do as we got to the dinner whole and healthy, albeit extremely late. But it was totally fine, I still got to play with her adorable nephews before they went to bed (one was named Netzach, which means eternity and is my new favorite name ever), and learn a new version of spit before the guests arrived. Her sister is a member of a clan of ubercool 30-something Modern Orthodox American Jews who could all be characters on New Girl. It was awesome. We sat around the Thanksgiving table drinking homemade pomegranate wine, eating the best tasting Thanksgiving food I think I’ve ever had (I normally hate Thanksgiving, sorry ‘bout it), and talking about our lives. We almost got cheesy enough to go around in a circle and say what we were thankful for, but we didn’t. And yet, I still looked around a table full of people—most of which who I had known for only a few hours—and came to the realization that it was the most Thanksgiving-y Thanksgiving I had ever had. I’m not quite sure why, maybe it was because I was actually speaking English for a change, or because there was a family of friends sitting around the table, just like in the movies, or in Friends.

Anyways, it made me realize that I’m finally at the age where I need to start saying “yes” more than “no”—to forget my anxiety and inhibitions and start to experience the world. I’m at the stage in my life where I am supposed to do interesting things and meet interesting people, and eventually become interesting myself. I ventured into the middle of nowhere with people I didn’t really know and nothing crashed or burned. Instead, I came back with an incredible experience and a new picture of what Israel can be—so I guess it can’t be that bad. 

Until next time, Yael

November 17, 2012

I don’t know how many of you have been following the current crisis in Israel. I don’t know if you know how many missiles have been fired into Israel over the past three days, or if you’re aware of the death tallies of Palestinians. I don’t know if you’re aware that for the first time in twenty years missiles are being fired into Tel Aviv, or that for the first time in Israeli history a missile was fired into Jerusalem. I don’t know if you’ve put it all together, but for that last one, I was there.

Last night I wasn’t in Jerusalem. I was about twenty minutes away, in a town called Zur Hadassah, for a zofim seminar. And while we got to work as soon as we got there, everyone’s mind was a little bit preoccupied with what has been happening in our country over the past few days. The missiles being fired into southern Israel are, as difficult it is to believe, something we are all used to, but the missiles that were sent into Tel Aviv sent the whole entire country into shock. And so, as we sat in a circle discussing our leadership responsibilities as counselors, we took turns glancing at our cellphones, keeping updated with the current missile count, sending texts to our loved ones, reassuring everyone that we were okay. A few people dared to ask where the bomb shelter in the building we were staying at was, but everyone else laughed. We live in Jerusalem, arguably the holiest city in the world, they said. Even Hamas wouldn’t bomb us—it’s important to them too.

Not even half an hour had passed since the question was raised that we heard a siren—so loud we couldn’t hear ourselves think, rising and falling in waves. We all froze, listened, and looked at one another, trying to understand what could possibly be happening. And when we realized that it was a red alert, it was chaos. We ran out of the rooms we were in and into the hallway, trying to figure out what to do, holding on to someone, anyone—someone to reassure us that we would be safe. Among the screaming and the crying, we ended up in the smallest room in the building—the one with the least amount of windows—and on the floor. It couldn’t have been longer than two minutes, but I can assure you that those two minutes were the longest of my life. I remember holding on to one of the girls in my komuna, feeling her shake and hearing her cry, not knowing what to do. I didn’t cry. I tried to comprehend what was happening, but nothing seemed to reach my brain. I just sat there, holding on to the people around me for dear life, frozen. As soon as the sirens stopped everyone took out their phones, calling home, calling family. I stared at mine for a good minute or two, as if I had never seen one before in my life. I just didn’t know what to do. Eventually I called my parents, my grandparents, and sent out simple “I’m okay” texts to my friends back home.

In a daze, me and a friend were taken outside to be shown the bomb shelter, just in case there was another alert. I remember hearing someone say something along the lines of “Holy sh**, look at the sky”. I did, and instantly the tears I had unknowingly kept in came pouring down. There were two lines of smoke, tracing the journey of the missile that apparently didn’t hit hundreds of miles from where we were. Until that moment there was a chance that it was a glitch, that what we thought had happened didn’t really happen at all. But it did. It had. We spent the rest of the evening in shock, trying to deal with the aftermath. I had to answer the texts I received back: “What are you gonna do?”, “You getting out?”, and alternate between my mother and father on the phone, simply trying to digest what had just happened.

All of our programs for the rest of the night were canceled, and instead we had a discussion about our responsibilities as Israelis to the rest of the country. Because as we all immediately realized, this one red alert, these two minutes of our lives that sent everyone reeling, they were routine for thousands of people living in the south, people who are practically if not literally living in bomb shelters hearing these same ear-splitting, heart-dropping sirens every fifteen minutes. This is an accurate statistic. These people can’t sleep, because as soon as they rest their heads on their pillows at two in the morning after returning from the shelter, they are woken up to go back. I just described to you the traumatizing anxiety we all faced. Now imagine that being your reality, your day to day life. Imagine the terror, the knowledge that at every moment of every day, a missile could fall and destroy your home and everything you’ve ever known. Try to think about living in constant fear—not for a few minutes, or days, or even months, but for twelve years. And now realize that the world constantly criticizes the Israeli government for trying to stop it.

I go on Facebook and read the comments that call Israel the aggressors and Palestinians victims. That’s not true. I would never say that Palestinians are not victims, but Israelis are not aggressors. We’re victims too. And that’s just the thing—this war is not between Israelis and Palestinians. It never has been. It’s between Israel and Hamas, the terrorist organization that has made it’s sole mission the complete destruction of our country and all of the people living in it. That’s who we’re defending ourselves against. That’s whos has sent over 600 missiles into our country in the past three days. What the media doesn’t tell you is that Hamas built their base under Gaza’s main hospital, that even in combat they use their own citizens as human shields. Hamas’s war for the media’s affection has been won through propaganda, through their reused pictures and their unexplained statistics. When we assassinated Achmad Jabari, one of the leaders of the Hamas organization, we accomplished and incredible 1:1 ratio of intended victim and innocent victim, when the UN itself states that the accepted ratio for the assassination of a known terrorist is 1:10. When our US troops captured and killed Osama Bin Laden, it was a universal celebration. Bin Laden attacked the United States once, and while I would never try to minimize the immense impact that 9/11 made on all of our lives, Jabari was responsible for millions, for twelve years of nonstop attacks. How could his assassination be viewed negatively? The Israeli army sends warnings to the Palestinians in the areas they are about to attack, warning them to get to a safe place as to not take more innocent lives, while Hamas’s known and publicized priority is to murder every last Israeli.

The thing that people just don’t seem to understand about this war is that we’re not fighting it by choice. Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said it best: “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel”. All the Israeli nation wants is to live in peace, without the constant existential threat that terrorist organizations like Hamas impose on it. Everyone should have the right to leave their own homes without fear, whether they are Israeli or Palestinians. We’re not fighting each, or oppressing each other, because we have the same common enemy.  We’re fighting the same war.

November 4, 2012

I’m back! It’s almost as if I was on a purposeful hiatus instead of just being very very lazy, but unfortunately, only the latter accurately applies. I’ve always been terrible at sticking to the things I start (excluding you know, the whole fashion thing) so I’m actually considering it a great accomplishment that I’ve jumped back on the blogging horse. That means, however, that I have a good month of information to update you on—so this is either going to be a ridiculously long post or a ridiculously vague one.

Let’s start with the tzofim. I’m still a counselor for my fifth grade boys, and am falling even more in love with all of them on the daily. A few weeks ago we went on the first camping trip of the year—my first camping trip with the tzofim ever—and it was so stressful but also probably one of the greatest memories I’ve made this year thus far. Which is incredible ironic to me because lets face it, I never thought I’d be the camping kind of girl. But I guess I’m good at it! Just this past week I overheard one of the kids who was there telling a newcomer how much fun it was. Needless to say, that made my afternoon. What’s really great about the fifth graders in our chapter is that they’ve decided that the cool kids go to the tzofim—something that isn’t really the case for other grades and strongly affects their ability to recruit. Because of it, I’m getting new members every week which is both really exciting and quite stressful, considering I’m on my own and they are extraordinarily hyperactive. Ieven have an adorable new camper who happens to be deaf (but has a cochlear device which I know all about! Hey Ms. Mattes!), and seeing how excited he is to participate in everything and how all of the others help him out has been incredible. 

School has also been getting better and better every week. At HaYovel I am consistently teaching English, which has been an incredible experience. For anyone who has the oppourtunity to listen in on a class teaching the basics of their own language, I highly recommend it. There are so many rules that we use on a day to day basis but don’t think about, like that when we pluralize verbs that end in “y”, we only change the form to “ies” if there is a constonant before the “y” in the original word (think “plays” vs. “carries”). I’m with the same teacher for almost the whole day, and she always makes fun of me for how excited I get everytime we learn something new, because in a way, it’s new to me too. At Guatemala I have a less exposure to English as a subject, but working with those children has changed my perspective on so many things. I’ve mentioned that Guatemala is a much poorer school than HaYovel, but the extent to which the lives of the children there differ can be shocking. For my Bay Area readers, think Palo Alto and EPA. I work with kids from such difficult backgrounds at Guatemala, kids who at age 11 are already the heads of their household, kids with a single parent, kids with no parents. Kids who everyone else has given up on. I’ve recently started working with a sixth grader named Api, whose educational gap is so large that all of his teachers have simply given up on him—and he’s picked up on it. When I took him out of English class one day, his teacher told me not to make him do the work but to focus on Math or Hebrew because “there’s just no point, he won’t get it”. Api hears them saying these things, and because of it he feels no need to try. He’s starting to believe that he’ll never get it as well, and it’s heartbreaking. And that’s just one child in this program; there are fourteen more who are facing, if not the same problem, ones of equal discouragement, difficulty, hardship. And all they need is someone to believe in them, someone not to let them give up. That’s what we do. In the last hour I had with Api we worked the entire time—something which he has apparently not done in a very, very long time—simply because I told him I knew he could. And I was right.

A population that we have had less exposure to in Kiryat Menachem has been the orthodox one, but that is also quickly changing. I hinted in previous posts that I may start volunteering at the community garden in Kiryat Menachem, and started that position last week. Me and Naj (Nadav, one of the people in my komuna whose doing this volunteering with me) really wanted to volunteer at the garden on our street, which is much weaker and consists of working with the Ethiopian community, but because of scheduling conflicts we ended up volunteering at the the bigger, more stable garden, which is more often frequented by the orthodox community. Because of the innate differences between the tzofim and, well, the entire orthodox community (being that we are a completely secular movement), we didn’t have much scheduled volunteering that applied to them, but I am very glad that this is changing. We’ve begun opening the doors to the other side of Kiryat Menachem’s community, and I’m sure I’m only going to feel more at home. I’m also incredibly surprised with how much I enjoy working in a garden, especially considering that on my first day we basically carried dirt from one side of the garden to another. It’s amazing what a new perspective, and location, can do.

Until next time (I promise it won’t be so long this time), Yael

October 7, 2012

I’m going to be honest, this whole blogging this is getting kindof tough. I feel like I’m pretty much repeating myself every post—which is a little sad because I’m going to have to keep on doing this for an entire year (just kidding! I don’t have to! I want to!)—so this week I have vowed to do a little bit less moralizing and “this is why this year is so great” talk because it’s getting a little cheesy for my taste.

This week was another one of those halfies—we were only in the komuna from Tuesday to Friday. You would think that would mean I don’t have too much to write about, but you would be wrong. Or a little bit right. I guess I’ll just keep on writing and we’ll see how much space gets filled up. 

Highlight #1 was our event at the community garden. I don’t remember if I’ve told you guys about this at all, but there are two community gardens in Kiryat Menachem: one big one that’s been around for a good amount of time, and baby one thats only a few years old. The baby happens to be on our street, Hanurit, which is also apparently the worst street in all of Jerusalem, and that was where we held the event. We figured that since the kids of the town are now on break and spend their days simply roaming the streets, it would be nice for them to have something to do for an afternoon. For the komuna, it was also a great way to test out volunteering there and seeing if we want to do it for the rest of the year (it’s looking like a yes for me! Who would have thought). The happening had multiple stations, including planting plants and making pita, and I was of course in charge of the mural, the artiste that I am. Alone. Which I soon discovered was one of the more foolish decisions I’ve made, because when you give badly behaved children cups of paint they neglect all outlines that have been made to keep the mural looking beautiful. After a momentary, internal mental breakdown, it was decided that the outlined painting would be abandoned and the kids would simply paint blobs of color over which I would paint a nice garden scene very similar to what I had originally planned. That last part has yet to happen, so for now the electricity box in the Hanurit community garden is not the sharpest looking thing in the planet. I have also conveniently forgotten to take a picture of it, so lucky for you you will only get to see the final product. That will probably happen next week, so get excited.

We got another nice long weekend this week because of the final holiday of this brutal holiday season, which gave me an excuse to squeeze in two family visits in one weekend! Which, other than exemplifying my hectic weekend schedule (I’m booked until the end of November ladies and gentleman!), is worth mentioning because during the first half I got to meet a part of my family that I have never ever met before. I’m going to skip over the gushy living in Israel and bonding with my family speech because I promised you I would, and instead just say that they are awesome and I’m very glad that I am related to them. Also, most people do not think to go to the Tayelet (boardwalk, I think) in Netanya when they come to visit Israel, but they should, because it is so beautiful and feels like a mix of Hawaii and Spain which was a little weird for me but also incredible. 

So that was this week. On Tuesday I go back to the komuna and we finally start our normal schedule, with a super exciting beginning-of-the-year trip on the weekend! Not gonna lie—I’m nervous, so wish me luck. 

Until next time, Yael

September 30, 2012

I have now officially been living in Israel for two months. That means it’s been two months since I’ve seen my family, my friends, or eaten Chipotle. It’s been two months without my bed, my guitar, and my dog. It has definitely not been an easy two months, but it has by far been one of the most incredible two months I have yet to experience in my life.

I keep on talking about all of the firsts I’m having, and I’ve been treating it as something that you’ll only hear about in the beginning of my journey. I know I’m still not very far into it, but I’m now pretty confident that even in month eleven, or twelve if I end up staying that long (these things have yet to be decided), I’ll still have firsts for you. This week, for example, had a ton of firsts. In the komuna, I went on my first ever tzofim trip, where I obviously made some extremely noob-ish mistakes: only bringing a small bottle of water when we were supposed to have three liters; wearing perfume, which I very quickly learned draws all of the bees in. But the great thing about my clear newbie-ness is that I get to learn so much every day. I had no idea what I was going into on that Thursday morning at the god-awful hour of 8:00 am, even though this kind of trip—a preparation trip—is in the tzofim basics. Luckily for me, my audience consists of even bigger noobs than I, so I get to share all of the new information I’ve learned with you. The tzofim have quite a few trips throughout the year, but before every trip they have a preparation trip for all of the counselors. It’s only a day long, shorter than the average trip, and it’s purpose is basically to give the counselors the knowledge and context to plan awesome activities for their groups. We did the hike (5.5 kilometers in the middle of a heat wave, it was the easier one and I absolutely died) with a trail expert who pointed out plants that the kids might think are cool and taught us all about the area. The thing that stood out to me so much about this entire process is how much effort gets put into every activity that we plan for our groups. We spent eleven hours ensuring that we were knowledgeable enough about our surroundings to be appropriate tour guides, and will definitely spend many more actually planning all of their activities there. That amount of dedication is not something that I have ever experienced or even heard about as part of a youth group, and it’s one of the things that I admire most about this one.

On a more personal level, this week marked the first time I’ve celebrated the holidays with my extended family—in thirteen years. Words cannot explain how amazing it has felt to be with my grandparents on Yom Kippur or my aunts, uncles, and other grandparents on Sukkot, which we celebrated only a few hours ago. In terms of family, this year is all about making up for lost time, and although I am stretching myself thin trying to figure out how to optimize all of my time with everyone, I am immensely enjoying getting closer to each and every one of them. That’s what this year really is about for me—getting closer to my heritage, my family, and my home. It may have been two months without all of the things that have given me comfort as I’ve grown up, but it’s also been two months with all of the things that have been missing. And that’s a switch I’d make again any day.

Until next time, Yael

September 23, 2012

I’m titling this post as September 23rd for the sole reason of maintaining appearances that I’m punctual and write every Sunday. It’s actually 1:15 am on September 24th here (which you probably wouldn’t have figured out if I hadn’t told you, but hey, I’m just that honest), which is the perfect segway to dissecting this week. Basically, it’s been busy. 

The most important thing that happened this week, and also the most draining, was the tzofim’s Tekes Esh (Fire Ceremony). It was our opening ceremony, where we presented this year’s tzofim to the parents and the rest of the community. There was a really cute skit and all of the important people within the chapter (or shevet) said a few words—and it included a lot of fire, which already explains to those of you who know me well why I enjoyed it so. I believe that my personal Shnat Sherut experience is so unique because for me, everything is new. I’ve already mentioned how the rest of the komuna have spent the better part of their time since fourth grade in the tzofim, so things like the Tekes Esh excite them in a nostalgic way. But for me, it was the first time I had ever seen anything like it. Everything that I have experienced so far has been brand new.

For every event we host there are a lot of ‘working days’ to accomplish everything that needs to be done. For this event, we spent most of this time on the wire billboard-sized signs that we put up with hemp-type rope lettering, and eventually lit on fire. This meant that we needed to secure the hemp-rope, which takes a lot more time than you might think, into each letter, and then build the structures that would hold it up. On this last part, we worked on Saturday from 10 am until 5:30 pm, with only a two hour break for lunch. We build all of the structures from wooden logs called “cenadot”, and then tie them together in specific bindings with a whole lot of rope. These are the basics for every tzofifnik, but like I said before, it was all new to me. And I learned! You better believe that I tied at least seven bindings, which was, in the end, such intense labor that I had to lie on my back and not move for half an hour afterwards. But it was worth it. I have fallen so in love with this movement, with its hands-on mentality and old traditions and ceremonies, and I so cherish everything that I’ve learned how to do. I love that I’m becoming a part of it.

This has been even furthered in my job description. I am—though only temporarily, I’m promised—now a madricha (counselor) for fifth grade boys! And I love it. I’m extremely terrified of it, because I don’t exactly know what I’m doing and I desperately want them to have fun, but the boys are incredible and I have so enjoyed the two peulot (activity days) I’ve already had with them. My fear has also dwindled thanks to my glorious komuna, who have all already offered to help me with all of my planning and brainstorming. I have yet to figure out how different it is from Madrichim at Kol Emeth or USY, but I guess I’ll need to settle into it a little bit more to find out for sure. 

All you Jews out there know that I am writing in the middle of the busiest season in the Jewish calendar: what people here just call “the Holidays”. This means that we’re spending a lot of time outside of the komuna, because everybody goes home for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the beginning of Sukkot. There is also no volunteering during Sukkot, which puts us in a standstill for the next few weeks. We’ve already started to try to break up all of that spare time, and are planning a really exciting event in the community garden here (you’ll hear more about that next week). Don’t worry though—even though we’re only here half the time, there will be plenty to update you on. 

Everyone (who is fasting) have an easy fast! 

Until next time, Yael

September 16, 2012

This post is going to be a little scrambled because I’m writing from BARCELONA (more on that later) so everything that happened this week in Israel seems very very far away. But I will do my best. 

This past Tuesday we had our first meeting with our mentor-type person, which shook up our komuna life. Her name is Lital and we meet with her every week to talk about life at home and at work, so that we aren’t completely left to our own devices throughout this year. She’s amazing and we love her, but she made us realize how unorganized we’ve been since we started Shnat Sherut. Basically, all of the komunas had the weekend they moved in to settle down and figure out things like cleaning and cooking, but we had the pleasure of going straight into a seminar for the weekend, which left us without any form of personal schedule as we started the year. When Lital picked up on this she mandated a komuna work day, where we cleaned the entire komuna (my part took about four hours) and finally made a chores schedule. On Thursday I left the country so I don’t really know how that’s going but I promise to keep you posted. 

That’s honestly all that I remember from this week in Israel other than that it was my housemate Daniel’s birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY I LOVE YOU) so we went out to a fancy dinner which I always love. So lets move on…to Spain!

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned how excited my family is that I’m in Israel for the year, but if you think about it it’s extremely logical that they are very happy (as am I) that I am no longer on the other side of the world. To celebrate my proximity, and my 18th birthday, my grandparents decided to head to Barcelona with me and my uncle, and while I’m aware of the extravagance I am having such an amazing time here that I have already started rethinking my life plan so that it includes a period in Barcelona. I love everything about this city: the people, the energy, the cleanliness (they clean their streets every two hours), the art, the architecture…literally everything. We’ve gone on two tours already—one of Barcelona and one of the Dali museum and Girona—and the amount that I’ve learned is astounding, like that King Ferdinand built his extension of the palace using the grave stones of Jewish graves, purposefully leaving a few of them facing out to display their defeat, or that Gaudi’s architecture was so inspired by nature that the reason the Sagrada Familia has yet to be finished is because architects today are still trying to figure out how to build it ‘like a tree’. I also stood inside the RamBam’s house, which was one of the most awe-inspiring moments of my life. 

While part of me wants to stay here forever, I miss my komuna and my new (clean) home so very much. It’s crazy how these people, who I have barely known for a month, are already so ingrained in my life that I wake up in the middle of the night wondering where my roommate is (true story). Tonight is the eve of the Jewish calendar’s new year, so Shana Tova to you all and I hope this year provides everyone with new experiences and perspectives, but most importantly good ones.

Until next time, Yael

September 8, 2012

This post is coming a day early because I can already tell how busy tomorrow is going to be and I’m determined to stick to this schedule. Also, I’ve been dying to blog again since my last, slightly pessimistic post because this week has been so much better than the last and I did not want anyone worrying over my easily disheartened self!

This week we started volunteering, and I mean really volunteering, and all of the sudden everything started to make sense. This whole experience until now has included only hopes, thoughts, and expectations as to what I would be doing, but now I have gotten to abandon that and actually delve into my work. At Hayovel, I started assisting an English teacher, which was so much fun. Like I said before, the community at Hayovel is much better off, and teaching english also comes extremely naturally to me (shocker), so it isn’t incredibly challenging work quite yet but it is somehow already rewarding. We also opened our Tzofim calendar year, and I am glad to say that it went really well! We had around 120-130 kids show up, and we built a working carousel which was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. On Friday we had our first ‘pe’ulah’, which is a smaller activity that we have two times a week and is really the heart of the Tzofim.  I wasn’t there because this weekend I went home, but I was told that we opened with 102 kids, which is spectacular for our chapter. 

Hayovel!

Not everything that we’ve done is set in stone, however—for example, at Guatemala we’ve only started at that center I told you about and even there we’re only testing out different kids to see who makes a good fit—but I can tell that we’ve already started to make a difference. People know who we are now; there is a clan of fourth grade girls that for some reason has taken a liking to me and pounce whenever they see me, and moms have pulled over to offer me a ride by request of their children screaming “she’s from the Tzofim!”. But the greatest moment of recognition by far has been seeing Mazal, an Ethiopian second grader (I believe) at Guatemala who I worked with for only an hour, by her house as she walked home from school. Words cannot sufficiently express how amazing it felt to see this adorable girl with a very troublesome home situation light up at the sight of me, someone she had only known a day. That’s what I came here to do, and while right now the excitement only lies in recognition, not progress, I think it’s a very good way to start. 

This week was also my birthday (!!) which I was very very excited about and so proceeded to remind everyone about it all of the time. I was really worried that, as anyone with a birthday this early in the school year can agree, people wouldn’t know me well enough or care about me enough to make an effort, but I was surprised. Even after probably 60 exclamations of “It’s my birthday tomorrow!”, I didn’t expect my komuna to buy balloons, decorations, and sparklers to surprise me as it turned to midnight. I certainly didn’t expect my adoptive family, who have spent even less time with me (but who I am still so obsessed with you have no idea), to bake me a cake, decorate their house with balloons, and even get me a small, thoughtful present. I did expect our komuna outing to celebrate my legal drinking age, but that was just as fun (if not more) than I expected it to be. And while it was hard not to be with my family and friends back home, I can honestly say that it was one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had (so thank you). 

My adoptive family! From left to right: Anat, Hagar, Me, and Nadav. Aya, the oldest, took the picture

My adoptive family! From left to right: Anat, Hagar, me, and Nadav. Aya, the oldest, took the picture

All in all, it’s been a spectacular week, so lets hope that the next one is even better!

Until next time, Yael

September 3, 2012

I’m currently lying down in my double bed (which me and my roomie, Lior, decided to both occupy in order to turn our twin into a couch) with the fan pointed on low directly to my head, nursing either a serious headache or a non-serious migraine. I’m seriously hoping for the former. But even with this pounding in my head, I can reflect on this week as a truly amazing one. If I said that I had finally figured out exactly what I’m doing here I would be lying, but I have started to experience it, which is something that, although I certainly will try, seems impossible to put into words. 

From what I’ve heard from fellow Shinshinim (people who are doing Shnat Sherut, I know it’s fun to say), a lot of people have jumped straight into their volunteering. This was not the case for us. Our week was made up of meetings, lots and lots of meetings, in which we figured out the bulk of our responsibilities for the year. The most critical was our school schedules as, other than the scouts, that is the backbone of our volunteering. It took a while to really figure it out, but I think that (finally) everyone is satisfied with their placements. I’m going to be at an elementary school called Guatemala three times a week, and at another one called HaYovel once a week. Guatemala is in Kiryat Menachem and is in much worse shape than HaYovel, both economically and in its population. We’re going to be helping out in the classes there, which are extraordinarily understaffed, but the really unique thing about Guatemala is its private tutoring center, designed to provide the most troublesome kids with the help that they need to stay in school, and off the streets. The program has only been around for two years, and relies entirely on volunteers like ourselves, which makes the experience that much more meaningful.

The only other thing that we’ve officially decided on other than our schools is our adoptive families, and I’m completely in love with mine. Shnat Sherut provides us each with an adoptive family in the community in order to help us feel less alone, have a place to have Friday night dinners (which all families do here in Israel), and to have a place to escape to when life in the komuna gets too hard. I am so lucky in that I have already clicked incredibly well with my family—everyone else makes fun of how much time I’ve spent there in just the past few days. I have already formed a relationship with each of their five amazing kids, aged 18, 14, 11, 7, and 5. The oldest has a serious mental disability, but he is just as sweet and caring as the other four.

My adoptive mother is also the parent-head of our scouts troop, which has helped me get a little bit more acclimated in the past week. This week has been super intense in terms of work days, as we open our year tomorrow (!!!). In the tzofim, this means a huge ‘happening’ (thats what they call it) with tons of different activities and booths and fun exciting things. While this is a yearly thing for every troop in Israel, it’s all new to me, and has given me the opportunity to touch base on all things tzofim-y this week: painting huge signs with a gradient (very important), visiting schools to tell them about the event, and building everything from scratch, including sponge fishes.

Something that I haven’t touched on—and only just now decided that I wanted to—is just how hard this experience already is. The past week has been one of the most amazing and life changing weeks of my life, and I am so excited about every single thing I’m doing (if you couldn’t already tell). But it has also been one of the hardest. Going off to college, leaving home, that is one of the hardest things that most of us have to do by the age of 18. But leaving home for another country, to live and make all of your decisions with five other kids, that’s something that no amount of discussion or warning (of which I had plenty) could have prepared any of us for. They say after the first month it gets easier, so hopefully by post #4 I’ll have an answer for you. 

Until next time, Yael