Part of Yahel’s Repair the World Onward Israel Service Learning Initiative is to bring our experiences in Israel back to our college campuses; for me the University of Pittsburgh. Throughout my time in Israel, I had been thinking of multiple possibilities. I could look for a women’s shelter in Pittsburgh, I could volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club after school program, or I could find other types of shelters that may need assistance with children, along with so many more opportunities. One thing I knew for sure when I left Israel one week ago today, was that I wanted to in some way continue to help the women’s shelter. When I left Israel I had no idea how and if that would be possible, but it was comforting to think that something may happen.
When my mom picked me up at the airport I excitedly told her as much as I possibly could about my experiences in Israel. Most of what I told her related to the shelter. I began to speak about how teaching English to the women and children were major components of our volunteering. My mom asked about the methods we used to teach English. I told her that we used English as a Second Language (ESL) websites, worksheets that were pre-made or that we made, and pictures of objects. I told her that one thing we didn’t have that we really could have used were English books. As I was explaining this to my mom, I remembered that each year her preschool class collects tzedakah money on Fridays to teach the children the importance of helping others. Typically the class buys books with the money they raise throughout the year and sends the books to a children’s hospital nearby, or an organization that a parent from the class suggests, at the end of the year. So, I proposed to my mom that maybe next year, or the year after, they could think about sending children’s books to the women’s shelter in Israel where I volunteered. As I suggested this to my mom, I really didn’t think anything would come of it. I thought maybe she would say, okay we will keep it in mind.
This idea thrilled my mom. In fact, she explained that the tzedakah money from this past year had not yet been used, as a few attempts to donate fell through. As soon as my mom got the okay from her boss and ran the idea by the preschoolers’ parents, I emailed Shiran, our volunteer coordinator at the shelter, and she loved the idea. She was honored that I had thought of the shelter. I told her that there was no other place I would rather help out in this way, and I really do mean that. The shelter did so much for me this summer in terms of personal growth, relationship building, and even learning some Hebrew. It was hard for me to believe that there actually was a way I could still help the shelter, and likely the children I worked with, if we moved fast enough.
Shiran and I discussed that the simplest English books possible would be most effective. Most of the children, and a lot of the women at the shelter, do not know English yet, and so the way we worked best with them was with a picture of an object, expression, or color, and the word written below it. Due to that experience, it was decided that books with very simple words and pictures would work best. Shiran expressed such gratitude towards this idea as English is an important skill that will be beneficial for those at the shelter.
We heard back from many of the preschool families and they were delighted that their donations would benefit those at a place that is so important to me, and now my family. I also sent a message to the other women I volunteered with and asked for any suggestions they had regarding books to send. I wanted to include them in this project as they played an important role in my experience there, and I knew they would be excited.
Picking out the books was a lot of fun. As I found a book about trucks, I imagined one of the little boys I worked with loving each and every picture, using the toy cars in the gan to imitate the illustrations. When I found a book about animals it brought back memories of coloring a picture of a horse with a little girl and her saying “soos” and me echoing that with “horse”. I found a book of colors, something I worked on with the little girl I mentored and I remembered how much she recalled between our first and last sessions together. Each book that I picked out had some sort of meaning to my experience. I had never expected that those books would bring about such emotions.
One of the preschoolers that was a part of the class that collected this tzedakah money, expressed interest in helping my mom and I with the send-off of these books. She came over to our house and I wrote out a note to the shelter telling them where the books came from and how much I, and all of those at the preschool, hope they will enjoy them. The little girl from the preschool decorated the card with stickers. She was excited that she would be helping children in Israel learn English.
We brought the books to the post office that same day and tons of paperwork later they were off to Israel! The postmaster told us that the books would go through customs. After hearing the process that this package would go through, I was concerned that it would take a long time to get to Israel. However, it is only supposed to take 6-10 business days. This was the best news I could have heard. It is very likely that these books will benefit the women and children that were in the shelter when I worked there. Although I will be happy with whomever these books help, the timing of this project makes me feel that my work at the shelter and my work with these specific people is not yet done, even though I am not there. This is very special to me.
Now, all I can do is wait for an e-mail from Shiran, letting me know that the package has arrived. Until then I cannot stop thinking about how unique this is. I do not know what will come of my connection with the shelter next, or how, or if this may in some way be incorporated in my project at Pitt, but what I do know is that I took my experience and started to bring it home.