Reflecting on the Last Eight Months / David Korolnek, Yahel Social Change Program Participant

When I first came here I was really drawn to the community feeling, it was easy to notice how everyone says hi to each other. Now I feel like I walk around and people say hi to me on the street.

Back home I live in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) with a real hustle and bustle vibe. There are tons of cars and unfamiliar faces. Here you see the same faces again and again, doing the same activities again and again. The real beauty, I don’t think is in the houses or architecture, but with beautiful gardens around town– it gives a real human feel more than a manufactured industrial one.

Due to my limited Hebrew, my central connections have been with my groupmates in the Yahel Social Change Program. I remember us having awkward conversations in the beginning just to be friendly. Now I really see as us being friends. Back in the GTA, I had the same friends my whole life, so it’s really nice for me to meet and connect with new friends from different parts of the world and engage their unique perspectives. There are idealists in the group– who I don’t always agree with– but offer something totally new, something I’ve never really been exposed to. And there are people who care about the real Israel, both in its flaw and in its beauty, rather than a picture-perfect image I see my community having back home. I came on this program to widen my perspective and I found the realest way to do that is through other people.

As a Canadian, sometimes I feel as an outsider to the group. I don’t know what Chipotle is or Trader Joes and my accent is a little different, like, how I say “house,” or “pasta.” I feel like I’ve realized a lot by both being a part of a community, while also recognizing my difference – and how subtleties like that exist all the time in the GTA. We have major immigrant communities who are citizens, and those who speak differently and have different cultural reference points.

One of my volunteer placements here, Shabab (Homework in the Home) has been great and epitomizes so much of this. I started teaching a young boy English and it has really evolved into a second family for me, and it led to connecting to his sister. I started teaching his sister a little bit and helped in her translating some of the academic English she is working with. And now I’m even working with his mom and helping her learn basic English words, “like,” “and,” “but” and ….Every time I’m over she offers me injera. Not only is it delicious, but I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile. I see it is as a real token of appreciation and I feel it.

It’s going to be sad for me when I leave here. I feel like the relationships will last with me and the people I’ve made connections with, and it will help me with the new encounters I will face in the next life phase. I have a better sense of social dynamics– understanding people and how to interact with different people and engage with them– both as a way of figuring out how to provide them what they want and need and for me to manage getting that myself.

I think sometimes, for better and for worse, many of my relationships back home have very much been targeted around desired goals. I want this, or they want that and that’s why we’re interacting. I feel like through all of these relationships I’ve described, I have learned a tremendous lesson in just being with other people. To value the relationship more than any particular task or goal. I think the transition from the industrial buildings of Toronto, to the simple architecture, the gardens, and the routine community life explains just that. I feel like these landscapes and characters are opening me to relate to people in a way that excites me . We just talk to talk and not about any particular need– it’s the second step to becoming a real person. It’s not about getting what you want, it’s about making connections. Since happiness really only comes with other people, we are asked to share and really be a part of each other’s lives.

The Yahel group, together after a hike in the Negev this past Spring

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