Reflections on Boston Onward Israel Experience / by Donna Vatnick, Program Participant

This morning, I leafed through the Haifa information notebook we received on our first day of the program. As I was jogging my memory on the history of Haifa and filling in some blanks about the situation in Hadar, I realized how much I had learned this summer. I expected this experience to be life-changing; it was that and more.

Hadar is such an amazing and diverse neighborhood. When people at home (in Marblehead, MA) ask me: “What did you even do in Israel? Was it like Birthright or something?” I just start off by telling them about this crazy place called Hadar. Living in Hadar gave me a taste of Israel that I would have otherwise never tried. The rich history associated with it, the Russian immigrants, and complete (and sometimes shocking) immersion, gave my time in Hadar character and meaning. You may say I’m even feeling a little bit “home-sick” for Hadar right now.

The individual placements also made a huge impact on me. Working with the elderly population was like discovering a new side of Hadar. These people shared such tear-jerking and unbelievable stories of their lives with Hannah and me. Everyday, we spoke with these people and I think we actually did make a difference. Really, I’m not big on the “White Man’s Burden” idea, but I am big on the “Jewish Man’s (or Woman’s) Responsibility.” It’s not really as much an obligation as it is something I want to do for the good of the receiving end and my own personal growth.

As one of my elderly friends, Ada, told me (in Russian) : “Helping each other. That’s what it means to be a Jew.” In her context she was talking about how in Russia, the doctors refused to treat her mother’s kidney disease, but in Israel they never refused and never told her her mother was too old and would die soon. She lived much longer than ever expected.

The traveling aspect of the program was especially wonderful as well. I’m very thankful that this program incorporated seeing the beauty and diversity of Israel outside of service in Haifa. The night hikes in the Negev, the tour of Jerusalem, even the student’s village

for the JAFI seminar was new and exciting. The tour of Sudanese immigrants sitting in Gan Levinsky in Tel Aviv was mind-boggling and astonishing. Some of these places allowed me moments of silence and reflection either by desert moonlight or at the Kotel. Our program leaders Jacki and Michal were helpful and informative (and awesome people!)

Overall, I came home understanding the skeleton of the issues in Israel. Except now I have a million more questions. I developed a strong connection with the State in 2009 when I went on Y2I (a birthright-esque 10 day trip) and became infatuated by it.  But now, it’s safe to say that the lust has evaporated and love has taken its place. My relationship with Israel has deepened. I’m trying to figure out how to keep this experience alive and kicking for a long time and how to integrate it into my community at home and in college.  I could not have asked for a better program than Yahel gave me this summer. It was sometimes bumpy, but that is expected from a pilot program.

Try to keep this program running. I think we’ll all be amazed at the difference we can make in Hadar. Maybe we can’t really change the whole socioeconomic situation and make all the Russian immigrants speak English and save every at-risk child. But we can change the paths of individuals we meet. We can change the vibe of Hadar. We do what we can. And they change us for the better too. What I’ve learned I’ll keep with me forever. And (hopefully) my impact there will resonate for a while as well.

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