Reflections

 
 

Reflections of a Five Month Participant

Five months ago, I started on what became an incredible adventure. When I signed up for Tikkun Olam, I kept getting asked; ‘What will you be doing in Israel?’, ‘Why do you want to go there?’, ‘Why can’t  you just work with kids in another state?’, ‘What do you want from this experience?’ All the questions were so overwhelming, I had left a great teaching job to take this opportunity and let me tell you it was the best decision of my life.

Sam with Track Coordinators & mentors Rakefet & Sarah

My time is this program was well spent. Every Sunday, I took classes on issues that Israel is facing, participated in a course that dug deeper into the Torah, and took a 3 hour course to learn Hebrew. Our Sundays, were full of group discussions and questions typically leading to everyone forming their own questions that we were all hoping to find answers to. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, I was volunteering with five different programs. The best part of volunteering was that it was so individualized. My focus was on teaching and working with children but there were opportunities to work with refugees, elderly, and honestly anything you were interested in. The program coordinators either had connections to places or would help you find something that fit your interest. Mondays were split between Beit Holland and Lilach. Beit Holland is a kindergarten program for students with multiple disabilities. The staff was incredible and the children you just couldn’t help but fall in love with them all! Lilach was an afterschool program for at-risk and low-income families. I always looked forward to sitting around the table eating with all the kids, playing soccer, coloring, playing games, and especially going all out for their birthdays. On Tuesdays, I spent my mornings at Mikveh Israel. I really enjoyed teaching English to 11th and 12th graders with behavioral issues. It was a great challenge and in the process I learned so much from the staff and students. At night, I was making a quick outfit change to help out at Etgarim. This is an incredible bicycle program working with children and adults with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. Every week, I met another amazing individual who touched my life. I loved riding on a tandem bike or riding along with someone through the paths to the beach. It was a great way to get to know one another and a way to build trust. On Thursdays, I volunteered at Beit Holland and spent my afternoons at Sexual Assault Center. For 4 months, I was tagging, organizing, and putting together clothes for a huge Bazaar with around 500 designers. This event was huge and was going to help raise money for the center. In the end it was so successful! On Wednesdays, we took classes that discussed Jewish identity, Zionism, and Israeli Society through Cinema. I always looked forward to Wednesdays because we also got the chance to do presentations on places we were volunteering at and could present on things that we were interested in.

negev

On a visit to the Negev

My weekends were spent traveling around the country with or without the program. I went to Eilat, the Golan Heights, the Negev, the Judean Desert and many other great places! We even traveled with the group during the week to explore parts of Israel that we were learning about in our classes.

Overall, five months flew by but this program made it possible to accomplish so much in so little time. I was able to help children, really focus on my own Jewish identity and learn about all the conflicts and amazing things that are all taking place in this small country that we love so much! Tikkun Olam is a great program and after all my experiences, I am heading back to Boston to a teaching position in a 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade special education class. Tikkun Olam will always have a special place in my heart ❤

Sam & Eric at the egalitarian section of the Kotel during his first visit to Israel

Samantha has returned to Boston, Massachusetts to continue teaching. She will be starting at Memorial Elementary School, Special Ed. Teacher, a job she took a sabbatical from to come to Tikkun Olam. As she readjusts to life in the U.S., she is already adding touches of her deeper connection to Judaism and Israel to her life and home. She recently hung a beautiful Israel made mezuzah to the door of her and, boyfriend, Eric’s new apartment.

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Peace is a Process

This week’s blog is written by Robert Venzia a native of  Hillborough, New Jersey & a current participant of Tikkun Olam, Co-Existence track. He 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.
Robert
Robert

 

 


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.

Robert with two participants

Robert with two 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 naïve thing to believe, because nothing in life worth accomplishing is ever that easy.

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 girls playing football

The girls playing football

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.

Playing Bingo

Playing Bingo

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.

The Path to Peace

The Path to Peace

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