NY Onward Israel Service Learning: Being Present

This week’s Yahel participant blog post comes from one of the participants on this year’s New York Onward Summer Service Learning Program. This group is living, learning and volunteering in the Ein HaYovel neighborhood of Jerusalem for 6 weeks this summer. Here are some reflections from one of this summer’s participants, Rikva Lubin.

Ninety seconds. That’s how long someone in Jerusalem has to get into a bomb shelter once they hear a siren. So far I’ve unfortunately experienced seven of those. Seven waves of panic. Seven instances where I had to drop whatever I was doing and make a run for it.

I started my six week volunteer program run by Yahel and Onward Israel on July 7th. Aside from the fear of attack, it has been absolutely amazing. Our program consists of everyone being placed in different areas to volunteer. We have group sessions every week where we discuss our work and learn things such as what it’s like to be part of a community and how we can reach our full potential. We learn how to take initiative and step up to the plate when we believe in something. We are all here to better ourselves and that’s exactly what we are doing.

I am currently volunteering at a kindergarten in the neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel. No one there speaks English so I’m really putting my 12+ years of Hebrew education to good use. After being fully submerged in true Israeli culture for over three weeks, one thing I’ve noticed about Israelis is that they need to grow up super quickly.

Rivka at the gan where she volunteers
Rivka at the gan where she volunteers

On my first day of work, all the kids were sitting in a circle and the teacher was about to read a story. All of a sudden, one boy, only six years old, called out, “Yesh milchamah im ha’aravim!” (There is a war with the Arabs!) The teacher took that opportunity to start a conversation about it. There had been a siren the day before, and she asked where everyone was at the time. What did they do? How did they react? Everyone started calling out saying that they ran to a bomb shelter. But one girl, and I think this hit me the most, said that she was at the park and there was no bomb shelter. What she had to do was lay on the ground and cover her head with her hands. And just to add to that, she got on the floor and demonstrated. Children. Mere children, having to deal with this. Having to know how to duck for cover.

I feel like when I’m in America I am so out of it. I don’t know much about what’s going on in the world. But being here, being so present, has made me hyper aware of everything. I am learning more about the conflict and the facts behind it. I am learning more about how Israelis live their everyday lives. It is so eye-opening to me.

My group is a very diverse one. There are fifteen of us, all coming from different universities and different parts of New York. It is amazing to me to see everyone’s backgrounds and different views. Once again: eye-opening. I am gaining so much knowledge and insight. I’m so excited to bring it all back home.

I’m not looking forward to leaving. The other day I told my kids at the gan that I’m leaving in two weeks. They cried, “Lo! Matai at chozeret?” (No! When are you coming back?) I told them that I really don’t know and they were very sad. I’m going to be sad to leave them. They’ve unknowingly taught me so much.

So that’s where I am right now. I am surrounded by 15 amazing people all working towards social change (which is the goal of our program). We have two highly knowledgable group leaders, Shoshana and Martin. I am so lucky. Despite the fear, despite the panic that ensues every time I even hear a bus go by, this is it. This is where I’m meant to be and I’m not looking forward to leaving on August 18th. Ten weeks in Israel? Almost over. But I’m keeping these memories forever.

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