Reflections on Volunteering “A Few Good Men”

This post was written by a participant on the Repair the World Onward Israel Service-learning Program in Be’er Sheva. 16 student leaders are spending 6 weeks with Yahel, volunteering in Israel, working in the non-profit sector with some of the city’s diverse populations, including immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union as well as the local Bedouin population. They are encountering social change initiatives in the Negev region and receiving training to be leaders when they return to their campuses in the fall.

The participant who wrote the piece below is volunteering at a women’s shelter.

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While I was doing research at the women’s shelter today, the two Arab children I had been working with left with their mother. They went to their aunt’s house, but really we don’t know. The social workers will follow up briefly, and then they will be gone. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I saw the girl in the morning and I just said “what’s up” in Arabic, and that was the last time I will ever see her. This was a painful reminder of what it means to work in a shelter.

This influenced the rest of my day at the shelter. There is a boy who is the son of a Russian gymnast. His tumbling and dancing skills are incredible. And on top of that he looks like a 6 year old version of an ex boyfriend of mine (in an endearing, not creepy way). He is simply precious. I adore him, and he adores me. But I am not allowed to forget that he could be gone when I get back to work tomorrow. Every evening when I tell him I am leaving, he runs away instead of giving me a hug good bye. I call out to him: “I am returning tomorrow morning!” but he still won’t say good bye.

It is difficult for me to work and invest myself in a place where there is so much uncertainty about the relationships I form there. But when I think of what it must be like to be a child growing up in that environment, my heart breaks. Certainty, trust, justice, predictability, routine, stability, friends, adventure–all things that contribute to a child’s healthy development–are in very short supply when you spend part of your childhood in a women’s shelter (or possibly in several women’s shelters).

I was carrying this weight with me as I stood with my co-volunteers waiting for the taxis after work. It was still very hot and bright, and I felt weak against the pressures of the world. We had also been talking a lot about George Zimmerman’s case, and I was starting to feel like the definition of “justice” I grew up with is not going to cut it anymore.

When our taxi finally came, I plopped down heavily into the front seat. The air conditioning revived me and I made a little small talk with the taxi driver. He spoke Hebrew slowly and deliberately so it was easy for me to understand him. He said, “your work is difficult, no?” and I said that yes, it was very difficult. He made some comments that made me understand that he had a real sense of empathy for what was going on inside the shelter. Then he said “The director is a very good woman. A strong woman.” I asked how he knew the director.

“I am one of three taxi drivers that brings women to the shelter from all over Israel. I travel to Haifa, to Tel Aviv, anywhere, to pick up women at a moment’s notice and bring them to safety at the shelter in Be’er Sheva. I have been doing this for many years.”

We chatted a little more about the structure of my program and I thanked him for the ride. When we got out, I was struck by the awesome power of goodness.

This apparently gruff taxi driver was in fact part of a team of people who bring women in grave danger to the safety of our shelter in Be’er Sheva. His work must be done confidentially and without much appreciation. He is one of three taxi drivers without whom the shelter would not be able to operate as it does.

Maybe there is no justice. Maybe goodness will have to suffice.

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