This post was written by Naomi Eisenberg, a participant on the Onward Israel Negev Service Corps summer program in Be’er Sheva. The group members are encountering social change initiatives in the Negev region and receiving training to be leaders when they return to their campuses in the fall. Naomi is volunteering at a local youth village.
Today during art, Tamra* asked me for the piece of tile that I decorated in nonsense doodles and lines. On the back I wrote, from Naomi to Tamra, remember that you will always be smart, strong, and beautiful.
She smiled at me bashfully when she received it.
Tamra is a wonderful, quiet and kind fourteen year old, who has only begun to come to the Meitar, the youth village, recently. A few weeks ago I started teaching Zumba and fitness lessons to the girls. Rarely do the girls ever go into the weight room, but we’ve been working on changing that. A few days ago, after the herd of boys left the room, I saw one of the girls, Tamra, peak inside. I asked her if she wanted to come in with me and learn a few things. Within minutes we were weight lifting, and the look on this girl’s face was brighter than I had ever seen. She saw the eight-kilogram dumbbells in my hands and was amazed that girls could be that strong, that girls were even able lift weights, to feel the power that comes with moving your muscles. Next time, she wants to do more, and even start learning some boxing moves.
The backstory to this encounter is that Tamra comes from a household where her stepfather beats her. In all honesty, I don’t know any more about her story than that phrase- something that I overheard in a conversation. I know she was born in Peru and immigrated to Israel at age seven. Other than that, I am left in the dark, piecing together what I know about her in order to be as supportive as possible.
I could tell though, that to feel like she could lift weights, and to feel physically strong was extremely empowering to her. This does not mean that next time that (god forbid) she is in a dangerous situation at home, she will have the skills and ability to fight back. Often freezing is the instinct, even for the most physically capable of women. It does mean, however, that she has planted a seed of strength within herself, one that has told her that she has the power to push herself, and perhaps revive pieces of herself that may have fallen apart in recent years.
Most of the girls at the Meitar are quiet, and few have committed crimes. This is in contrast to the majority of the boys who have. I have found that these girls are unlikely to open up to me, nevertheless even participate in the activities I attempt to lead. Zumba has been a success though; the sound of Beyoncé gets these girls up and moving. Many say it is their dream to go to America, and perhaps dancing with this odd American girl to American music is a little gateway for them. If this is something I can provide, I am more than happy to do so.
* Tamra is a name I am using to stand in for her real name.
– Naomi Eisenberg