It’s been an interesting and busy first three weeks for the Yahel Onward Israel program here in Haifa! During the first week the participants started to get their feet wet, learning about the Hadar neighborhood, its history, layout, population, and even nightlife. However, it didn’t take the group too long before they dove right in to the neighborhood, making trips to the market, getting themselves lost in the area only to discover new places, and befriending the neighbors (most of whom comprise activist communities that have purposefully moved to Hadar in order to create change in the neighborhood). The week culminated in a peaceful Shabbat together, including a group Kabbalat Shabbat, dinner with host families from the Garin Torani (a religious group of social activists located in Hadar), and a trip to the beach.
After a busy orientation week, the participants continued to deepen their understanding of Hadar and of Israeli society by meeting with local activists and speakers on a variety of topics, including the Russian-speaking population in Israel and the summer social protests, as well as through group sessions on community, connection to Israel and charity and justice. Alongside a fairly intensive learning process, the participants began a group mural project, together with American collaborative artist Diana Gilon. The mural, designed and created by the participants themselves, showcased Hadar as a blossoming community, with deep roots and the potential for a positive and vibrant future. It was painted in a central underpass that, a few years ago, was reclaimed and renovated as a community-led, grassroots initiative. The group is privileged and proud to leave their mark on Hadar, both through the mural which will be displayed for the next two months, as well as on canvases, which will be permanently displayed in a neighborhood community center.
The group also had the chance to meet up with other Onward Israel participants from around the country in a three-day seminar dedicated to discussing participants’ connections to the Jewish people and to Jewish heritage. Though the group was a bit hesitant about leaving Hadar, as they had just started to feel at home there, they were happy to have the opportunity to dedicate time to these important subjects so central to their experience here this summer, and excited to discuss these subjects with new friends from the other programs. Especially interesting for the group members was a dramatic performance by Robbie Gringras, presenting stories and experiences surrounding Israeli society combined with the immigrant experience, through both monologue and song. The participants appreciated his candor and connected well with the artistic medium. All in all, they left the seminar with new friends, new perspectives and, most importantly, new questions.
The arrival back in Hadar had a feeling of returning home for the participants, combined with excitement for the upcoming week, as the group finished the mural and opened it to the public, while also doing final preparations for their individual volunteer placements, which they began just three days ago. So far the placements are going quite well, and the participants are acclimating nicely to the new cultures, new norms, new languages and new faces. They are all looking forward to our trip to the Negev this weekend, in which they will be examining various perspectives of development of the desert, will set out on a moonlit hike, and will certainly enjoy the dry heat, as compared to their daily battle with the humidity in Haifa.
We’re all looking forward to a few more weeks of new experiences, learning and fun. More to come soon!