This post was written by Samantha Sisisky, a participant on the Yahel Social Change Program in Gedera. Samantha reflects on the 9 months she spent living and working in Shapira, a predominantly Ethiopian-Israeli neighborhood.
I’m entering my last week in Gedera, and I’m not sure how to feel about it. This weekend, we had our final group Shabbat weekend. We ate a beautiful, delicious, watermelon-themed Shabbat dinner together, spent time at the beach and even received “awards” (does anyone else think I have a flair for the overdramatic?). As everyone in my house now knows, I love when things come full circle. Not only do I love full circles, I need them. I feel that it’s the only way to get the closure I need to move onto the next chapter of my life. Having this final Shabbat echoed our first Shabbat as a group, in September. I led an activity during that Shabbat that we closed up this past weekend.
During our first group Shabbat, I had everyone write down on one piece of paper their biggest fear for the year and on another, their biggest hope. I kept them all year, so we didn’t look at them until Saturday night. I think we had all forgotten what we had written down in September. When I read mine, I nearly lost it. My fear: homesickness; my goal: to feel a part of the community/to feel at home. The revelation of my hopes and fears so long ago struck a deep chord in me. For the first time, I realized that I was actually ending this experience (and that’s why I need the circles). I also realized how far I’ve come. My ideas of home are so muddy and confused now. Virginia is home, the US is home, but Gedera is home, too. Tel Aviv will be home soon, too. The fact that I’ve even gotten to that point is incredible, considering how hard it was to be here at first. I guess I will always carry some sort of homesickness now, whether I’m in the US or in Israel. It’s not intense, but it’ll always be there. It’s a good thing.
As I read my hope again, I wondered whether if I had achieved it. Was I a part of the community? I thought to Desta Fest, and I thought yes, we all became a part of the community. For the past few months, my group worked on organizing an Ethiopian cultural festival in the neighborhood.
We wanted to connect the younger and older generations, make young people proud of Ethiopian culture and showcase it to non-Ethiopian community members. We worked with people from all ages in the community to make this event happen. I say that we worked on it for the past few months, but it was really a 9 month process. We’ve built relationships in this community for the past nine months, and without those relationships, the event would have never happened. There was homemade food, music, dancing and crafts.
I’ll include some pictures that will speak for the event itself. It was a difficult and rewarding experience and well worth it. There were people of all ages, all backgrounds, sitting together and enjoying a culture that is often overlooked or ignored in this country. As a wise friend wrote in an email about the event,
“The festival gave a great feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction: great ideas actually work. Community works.”
It’s very hard knowing how to say goodbye now. On one hand, I’m so excited to go home and see my friends and family, and most importantly, CC. On the other hand, I can’t believe I’m closing this chapter. It’s even more confusing because I’m coming back to Israel next year. But it won’t be Gedera, it won’t be Yahel. It will be different, and I need to figure out how to compound all these emotions into some kind of coherent goodbye. I will say this–this experience has been incredible. It has changed me. I owe a huge thank you to everyone at Yahel, my seven roommates and program-mates and everyone in Gedera who has made me feel like a part of the community. I’ll end here with my high school senior quote, and yes it is from Catcher in the Rye and yes, it is cliche, but these words seem to keep coming back to me time and time again:
To learn more about the Yahel Social Change Program, please visit our website: http://www.yahelisrael.com/programs_socialchange.php