Back to School / David Aptaker, Yahel Social Change Program Participant

Our work here has finally begun. As I sit here in my room, fan blasting to counter the weird heat wave we’re experiencing in Gedera, I can’t help but be excited for the next eight months.  Yesterday, I tutored two boys, Ephraim and Baruch, in English and will be doing so on a weekly basis (like all the Yahelnikim).  And today I, along with most of the other Yahelnikim, began our roles as teacher’s aides for English at the Ohel Shalom and Pines schools (pronounced “penis”…can’t wait to get that on my resume…).  Life is good.

I’m surprised at how lax teachers are in Israeli classrooms.  Today I watched a full classroom of kids break down to total chaos–kids were wrestling each other to the ground, sliding across the floors on their knees, yelling at one another, and completely ignoring the teacher.  The behavior I saw today would have led to some sort of disciplinary action, or perhaps a hernia, anywhere in the U.S.  Welcome to Israel, I guess.  Jokes aside, it is incredibly interesting to see the differences between American and Israeli culture.

To build on that notion, I have found it equally, if not more, fascinating to explore the differences in mainstream Israeli culture and Ethiopian-Israeli culture.  In a society that is so clearly dominated by white, Ashkenazi/Sephardic influence, it is a unique and wonderful experience to be living in a predominantly black community in Israel.  From what I’ve heard, learned and seen, the Ethiopian Israelis are often overlooked, forgotten, or tossed aside.  Perhaps it is precisely these conditions that bind the Ethiopian community closely together.  Or maybe all Ethiopian communities are close. I’m not sure yet. Regardless of the reasons for their bond, the fact is that I have never been in a community that felt so much like a big family as in the Shapira neighborhood here in Gedera.

People notice us, they welcome us, and they have treated us with hospitality and respect.  I can only hope they understand what it means to us.  Having come here not knowing anyone, I think I can speak for the Yahelnikim and say that their genuine warmth has made our transition into life here so much smoother.  We eight Yahelnikim are still getting to know one another as we also explore our surrounding environment.  Our Hebrew levels vary, our backgrounds certainly are diverse, and our knowledge of Israel as a country is contrasted, each of us bringing unique outlooks on her politics, religions, and social issues.  The one thing we all clearly share is we represent the left end of the political spectrum.  I think that is what draws all of us to this particular program.  We’re a bit of the idealist bunch–“we’re here to change the world”-type of folks.  We’ll see how this outlook changes as we get into the grit of our work in Gedera.

Aside from all this serious talk about community, our work, and social issues, I have to say, the food here is awesome.  Every time I’ve been in Israel, I’ve loved hummus, but oh man…the love affair has started once again, and it’s hot and heavy.  We’ve gone through tubs and tubs of hummus in the house. It’s with us at every barbeque, most meals, etc.  I think the produce is better than back home (especially fruit), and the juices are delicious.  Pair some good food with some deep experiences, and you have the formula for an excellent nine months.  I look forward to the remainder of our time here together.  Thanks for reading!