A time for learning / by Justin Lichtenstaedter

We have now been in Israel for just about four weeks and being that this is only our first group entry, it would be nearly impossible to summarize everything that we have done. So I won’t. We all came here from different backgrounds, with different expectations, and different goals, so I will try not to speak in generalizations. Having said that, let me generalize that we all came here to teach in some shape or form. These first few weeks however, we have been nothing more than students in every aspect of our lives. Learning about everything from lay of the land, to the values and history that lie beneath it. The customs, traditions, and sense of pride. Everything from the food to the handshake. The language to the religion.

Through discussions, seminars, and interactions, I quickly realized that being an effective teacher starts with being an attentive student. I would not have been able to sit down with anyone in the community or at the schools if I had no understanding of the cultural values and differences. The past few weeks have given me a better understanding of the importance in delving beneath the surface. Anyone can look at me and see a White Jewish boy from New York and draw any conclusion they want from that, as unfair as that may be. Unfortunately, conclusions are drawn from surface deep evaluations and as I have learned in this short period of time, Ethiopians take a hit from these hasty character generalizations. When I tell people from outside of the community what I am doing here in Israel, they chuckle and think that I am crazy. They think I am wasting my time teaching in a neighborhood like this, but that is only because they don’t want to “waste their time” learning about a rich and storied culture.

The more I learn, the more exciting the opportunity is to give back. One of the reasons I love Israel so much is because I feel like I am apart of something so much greater than myself; greater than the here and now. Submersing myself in a culture so different from mine has given me a new sense of belonging, in a culture that just a few weeks ago, I knew nothing about. I am excited to continue to learn from so many fascinating people from such a different culture.

The difference in cultures is what makes every day so interesting but the commonalities is what brings everyone together. With the most important commonality being family. Family is what ties us all together and spending Rosh Hashanah here in Israel has further solidified my belief that our Jewish identity stems from our family values. I can’t count the number of times in the last few weeks where a conversation has went a little something like this. “Hi, I’m Justin, nice to meet you.” “Hi Justin I’m (so and so), do you have family here? Do you have a place to go for Rosh Hashanah? We would love to have you over.” Total strangers opening their doors to me. For every invitation I am forced to turn down (which has to happen unless they make Rosh Hashanah a 40 night Holiday), I understand more and more why I am here.

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