Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Participant Spotlight: Erin West

Hey y’all, I’m Erin West from the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. I vacillate wildly between being a granola hippie and a medium-maintenance millennial, often both at the same time. I do, however, maintain an unwavering love for dogs (with mine at the top of that list) and a personal mission to have even the tiniest positive effect on the world around me.

I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in May 2016 and here in Israel I am volunteering with Holland Center for children with special needs, Porter Elderly Center, and the Clinic for Asylum Seekers. The volunteer opportunities at Tikkun Olam vary widely across the non-profit sphere. As such I was able to select placements that fulfill me personally, gain experience in my desired field, and to give my time and energy in a way that benefits the communities I am serving.

I found Tikkun Olam through BINA’s Taglit (Birthright) extension program, where I was able to volunteer with Tel Aviv’s asylum-seeking community. I wanted to engage with the people of Israel and learn about the complexities of society and politics. In general, to learn about Israel beyond the rose-colored glasses of Birthright or the fear-mongering of American media. After the brief volunteer and educational program I participated in, I realized BINA was the kind of organization that asks and listens in order to provide a service which is actually needed. After establishing that and finding Tikkun Olam, it was just figuring out the details! Now, after 2.5 months, I know I made the right decision.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Participant Spotlight: Rachel Fried

My name is Rachel Fried. I am a tree-hugging vegetarian from Fredericksburg, VA. I have a Masters in Health Administration from Tulane University. I chose the Tikkun Olam in Tel-Aviv-Jaffa program to make the best use of my degree and further my career, while deepening my connection to tikkun olam and Israel. I am interning at Public Clinic Terem TLV, located in the Tel-Aviv Central Bus Station, which provides non emergency healthcare to those outside the national healthcare system, mainly asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan. I am also volunteering at an after school program for at-risk children in South Tel Aviv - Bialik Rogozin School For Immigrant Children. Tikkun Olam in Tel-Aviv Jaffa believes it is important to volunteer in the communities where we live, so once a week my roommates I and are volunteering with Nofim School in Kiryat Shalom, where we will be teaching English through theater and drama games. Over the next 10 months, I am looking forward to learning Hebrew, exploring Israeli culture, and traveling around this beautiful country. I can already tell this will be a year of immense personal and professional growth for me.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Green Lines and Grey Areas

Shachar May, 22 years old, raised in New Jersey, is a current participant on Tikkun Olam's spring semester coexistence track. Shachar is spending her time on the program volunteering at Gesher Clinic, a psychiatric clinic for asylum seekers and other persons without status in Israel, Porter Center Elderly day center, where she is leading an art class, and Etty Hillelsum Israeli Youth Theater. 

“Liminal” is a favorite word of mine.  Coming from the Latin “limen,” meaning “threshold”, the word originated to describe a person’s state while they are in the midst of a transformative ritual – the in-between state where they are neither here nor there. These days, it’s an esoteric term used in anthropology and gender studies to describe people who are “betwixt and between” – people who have fallen through the cracks of society and are neither insiders nor outsiders.

As a half-Israeli, half-American, the best word I have for my identity is “liminal”. Growing up, we visited my mother’s family in Israel every year. I half understood the language. I was half familiar with the culture. Coming to Shabbat dinner with my entire extended family feels half like a tourist visit and half like a homecoming. In the States, I introduced myself with my last name, “May”, for almost 5 years to avoid having to explain the pronunciation of my first name. In the social-justice oriented circles I lived and worked in, pro-Israeli stances were unpopular. I resented the time I had spent in Jewish day school because I felt that I had only received biased information. I saw that my upbringing was secluded and lacked diversity.
I often fielded questions about Israeli conflict and culture from non-Jewish friends, and my answers were always ambivalent. I lived with a dual identity in a double-reality. I didn’t know how I felt. I felt that being Israeli was incredibly important to me, but the more I read about the political realities the less I agreed with my country’s actions.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Tom Albert, age 25, born in Israel and raised in California, is a current 10-month participant on Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. During her time on the program Tom is interning at Latet, Israeli Humanitarian Aid Organization, providing assistance to population groups in distress. 

Never in a million years did I think I'd end up living in Israel again. I mean, I was born here, and all my extended family still lives here, but I grew up and was raised in the states.  Sure, I'd visit every summer and enjoy my time here.  Every day would be so packed- breakfast with one family, lunch with the cousins, and dinner at grandparents. Lather, rinse, repeat until the month was over and we'd fly back home.

Home. It's such a complicated word for me. I remember when it was time to leave Israel to fly back to California, our families would take us to the old airport, before the Ben Gurion Airport was built, and they'd stay with us as we checked in. In that old airport, the check in counters where on the bottom floor, and to get to security, passengers would need to go upstairs. I remember riding that escalator up, crying as I waved goodbye to my Israeli family. I grew to intensely dislike that escalator, and dreaded it every time we left Israel. We were leaving one home to go to another. I hated leaving but I loved coming back.

Over the years I had come to terms with the fact that my family life was different than most. My friends got to visit their grandparents on the weekends and were best friends with their cousins.  I saw my grandparents once a year, and as I grew older, knew less and less about the lives of my cousins. Despite this, I still had such a strong connection to my Israeli family. But I accepted the fact that I would carry out my life across the world from them.

That is, until my parents decided to move back to Israel. After 18 years in the states, they decided it was time to return home, to be close to the ones they love. This move was very difficult for me and I knew that it would change a lot. I was still in graduate school, and did not see Israel as a destination spot in my future.

However, sometimes life has a tendency to surprise you.  The first time I visited my family's new home, in Israel, after 5 months of not seeing my parents or brothers, I felt a connection to Israel that I hadn't in all the years past that I visited. It didn't feel like a visit anymore, it felt like this was where I belonged. Immediately after my visit I decided to look into different programs and options that would get me to Israel.  I wanted to discover if I could actually see myself living in Israel for…ever? I couldn't wait to explore this country, one that I had always called home yet also always felt like a foreigner. I couldn't wait to live near my family again and be able to spend Shabbat dinner with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

It has been 8 months since I moved to Israel. During this time I made Israeli friends, danced at Israeli clubs, visited my grandparents on the weekend, met my new baby cousin, and (re)connected with my Jewish identity. Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa gave me the structure I needed, and introduced to my life new best friends from all over the world. Living in Israel has given me the opportunity to spend time with my family, be there when my middle brother got drafted to the Air Force, watch the Superbowl with my dad and little brother, and attend my mom's daycare holiday party. I get to strengthen the relationships with my cousins, aunts and uncles that I missed out on for 19 years.

I am not ready to leave Israel once Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa ends. I have decided to stay, for now. However, I miss America. The culture I relate to, the food I love most, the hobbies I enjoy are all mostly American. My best friends and college memories are in the states. No matter where I am, I will be missing an important part of my life. But I'd like to think that my connections are strong enough to withstand space and time.

 They say that home is where the heart is, but what happens when your heart resides in more than one place? I'd like to say that it means I'm pretty darn lucky to have my heart be filled with so many people and so much love. If my hardest challenge in life is that I have too many loving people in my life who live far away from each other, then I think I'm one of the luckiest people in the world. 

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.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Harsh and Humbling Reality

Rachel Kiner, originally from Scottsdale, Arizona is one of Tikkun Olam's current coexistence track participants. During her time on the program Rachel is teaching English at Ironi-Zion, an Arab high school, as well as volunteering at Windows: Channels for Communication  and YALA Young Leaders, a Facebook-based movement creating and enacting a new regional vision of freedom, equality, prosperity and peace. 

When I decided to come on Tikkun Olam I had two intentions. First, to understand the complexities within Israeli society to the best of my ability so that I could commit myself to making the world a better place through conflict resolution. On the other hand, I wanted to see if this was a society I could make my own. I thought to myself, what better way to acclimate myself to Tel Aviv as a potential home than by trying to understand even its darkest sides and then shine light in any way that I could in order to make it a better, more socially just and conscious society? I didn’t know if it was possible, but I wanted to try.

Without having any expectations of the outcomes, these were the hopeful thoughts that I entered my experience with. What ended up surprising me was the harsh reality I was met with, and the journey it has been coming to terms with them over the last 3 months. At first, I was proud to say what I am doing here when an Israeli asked. I often answered with a big smile, “I’m doing a social justice internship program and working with coexistence organizations.” If they asked further, I would often explain that I teach English at an all-Arab high school and volunteer for nonprofits trying to create windows for communication between Arab and Jewish youth.

It did not take long for me to realize that my pride was rarely met with appreciation or even understanding for the need of this kind of work. Most often the response is one of shock, sometimes followed by interest, humor or even anger. Some people laugh, assuring me that I must be silly to think that anything can be done to help the situation here. Others have seemed almost offended, implying that I must be a traitor to be a Jew wanting to help integrate the “other” into society. Encountering these various and unexpected reactions from Israelis has forced me to adjust my attitude. It is unfortunate that I no longer share what I am doing here with the same sense of pride as I did at first, but I believe this is part of the learning process, and I must understand these perspectives because they are the reality for Israelis who grew up in this charged atmosphere. Trying to empathize with their narratives has forced me to adjust my attitude about what I can do to help as an outsider. Now I meet their questions with a sense of apprehension instead of feel-good energy. The other day when someone asked that I must know peace is not possible, I found myself agreeing with him rather than scolding him for his attitude! It seems that the majority of people living here are adamant that nothing will change, and choose to live comfortably inside the bubble that is Tel Aviv rather than feel burdened by the balagan* that surrounds them. Here denial is a survival mechanism, and political apathy is a sad result of so many years of violence, fear-based media and loss of hope in the peace process.

Although at times confronting this reality has made me doubt if Tel Aviv is actually a place that I can become a part of, my feeling of being at home in Tel Aviv has been even stronger. It is the place where I feel the most in touch with myself and free to express that individuality. I see my own individuality reflected back at me by others rather than feeling a pressure to fit in. Feeling like I belong here and wanting to stay in this community (at least for the time being) has been a struggle to reconcile with my feeling of responsibility to improve it.

As Tel Aviv has been growing on me, at times I have caught myself gradually adopting the bubble mentality. This is not a conscious decision, but rather a natural response to daily life. Tel Aviv really feels like a bubble. It is a secular, liberal oasis apart from a right-leaning religious majority elsewhere in the country. Reflecting on my transformation of attitude since being here, I guess feeling like there’s nothing I can really do to help the discrimination, racism or integration of the other into Israeli society has caught me feeling apathetic, adjusting in the way that seems natural for Tel Avivians. But I feel guilty about this and recently have found myself asking if it is okay to know about all of the complexities here and ignore them? Is it okay for me to take advantage of the Jewish state’s inclusive immigration policies and build a happy life here for myself knowing full well all of the people who questionably have even more right to live here than me, but instead suffer because of the reverse coin of the very same immigration policies? These are questions that I am still dealing with today.

The fact that much of this society does not want my help which I at one point was so proud to give has been challenging to come to terms with, but it has also been humbling. There is wisdom in understanding and respecting others’ realities, even if it does not resonate with my own values. But the real challenge has been adjusting my own approach to meet their reality, rather than allowing myself to become disappointed and apathetic. I am allowing myself to feel grateful for and humbled by this shift in perception, because there is wisdom in being empathetic towards multiple perspectives and also coming to terms with the limits of your own abilities. I may not be able to change the world as I once dreamed I could, but I am learning what I can do to help change the world. And everything that I am capable of doing starts with my own mentality. If I can remain hopeful about a better future, even if that is generations down the road, then hopefully I can inspire others to feel that way too.

*balagan = “mess” in Hebrew