Today’s participant blog post comes from Rachel Iroff, a participant in the Yahel Social Change Program. Rachel’s group is living, learning and volunteering in Lod, Israel for 9 months this year. This post was taken from Rachel’s personal blog, which can be found here.
One of the most undervalued treasures of the world are families, new and old. They are what makes the world unique and interesting, teaching new recipes, telling bad puns and inappropriate grandpa jokes, crowding around one computer to video call with you halfway across the world, helping you find your spot in a new country and making you feel loved. They give you maps to find your way around unfamiliar streets, comfort and soothe your nerves, and give you solicited and unsolicited advice. People around the world have adopted me into their families, giving me an appreciation of human kindness that is all too often missed.
In Israel, I have been fortunate enough to have several incredible families to adopt me. My first is Wayne & Karen & clan, fun cousins that call to check on me when I disappear too long. It’s calming and comfortable to have a little bit of home and people who understand the craziness of moving to Israel. Wayne and Karen welcomed me to Israel, cooked me delicious food, helped me get over my jetlag, and ensured that I got to Yahel at the right time (my fault that I was lost for an hour on the wrong side of the train station!). Last night I was treated to an absolutely delicious Thanksgiving dinner in December to celebrate their son Matan’s birthday. It was wonderful being around a big family that liked to tease, joke, love and disagree. I am thankful to have people I can ask questions about politics or general life in Israel and receive very honest and knowledgeable responses without judgement. Having extended family in Israel is an invaluable treasure – especially when they guilt trip you into writing a new blog post by calling your grandmother!
In Lod, I found a new family to also adopt me. My host family, the Ankorys have made this new city feel more like home, accepting my lack of Hebrew with a smile and excitement to teach me and improve their English. They literally live around the corner from me which makes going to Shabbat dinner easy and delicious. One of my new favorite foods is this couscous soup that their grandmother brought from Tunisia that is so good that I had to learn the Hebrew word for yummy to describe it (ta-im)! The grandparents immigrated from Tunisia in the midst of the war, the grandfather moving first to Israel and the grandmother following after. While introducing myself in broken Hebrew, she told me a story of why she never learned English: When the British soldiers came to Tunisia when she was a little girl, she saw that they had candy. When she approached them to ask for a little bit, the soldiers very rudely turned her down and from that day on she refused to learn English. What a story to remind us that every interaction with every single person has the potential to drastically impact their life.
My Yahel family consists of my fellow Yahelniks who have been through the awkward first bus ride, crazy water hikes through rivers, fun nights out, and everything in between together. These people that I met a mere three months ago on a street with a pile of suitcases have become people I can talk about the struggles and happiness of living in a new country, talk about topics that I don’t usually think enough about, laugh so hard I cry, and miss when I don’t see them for several days. Every Thursday we have combined learning days to hear from It is fascinating to me that a group of people who live in North America with drastically different backgrounds could all find our ways to Yahel where we connect and learn from each other.
For Hanukkah, we each went on our own adventures in Israel, Cyprus, Istanbul, Germany, Prague, Budapest, Vienna, America, and Amsterdam. My friend Dustin and I decided to take on Italy (stay tuned for a post dedicated just to our trip!) As our hostel lady, Monica, became our pseudo family for the couple days we spent in Rome, she deserves a spot in this post. When we first arrived in Rome, we were exhausted and got very lost on the confusing Roman metro lines. Arriving close to an hour after I told her we would be there, I was incredibly apologetic and she brushed it all off with a hug and “Welcome to Rome!”- almost like being in Tennessee plus an Italian accent. 🙂 When she found that we had no real concrete schedule for our time in Rome, Monica proceeded to give us two maps of Rome- one with close to 20 sticky notes of the best gelato, restaurants, and coffee, and the other with circles of the best monuments with which bus or metro to take to get there. She also sat with us for close to an hour describing the special spots to find, history behind where we were staying, who she is, why Italian coffee is the best, the fun coincidence that we arrived on the Feast of Immaculate Conception, how to lock and unlock our door – everything we needed to know about Rome. She kept checking in via email and in person wondering how our time was and what else we needed. I was hoping to find fun Italians and Monica did not disappoint with the crazy Italian mother personality…I instantly fell in love!
While I am here, I get so many fun stories from home. One of my favorites was a couple weeks ago when I was talking to my friend Chelsea and she was driving to my grandmother’s house to eat dinner and make latkes. (Not only happened one time– the next week she went to my house with her boyfriend to make more latkes!) How incredibly fun is it that I am on the other side of an ocean being adopted by new families and my family is adopting a her?! Have to love human kindness and generosity.
It is hard to believe that I am a third of the way through my time in Israel. I have learned so many new perspectives, met many different people and experienced things I never even knew existed. This is the start of an incredible journey with amazing people and new families, and I am so thankful to be here – even if they don’t have Christmas trees! 🙂
Happy late Hanukkah and Merry almost Christmas, one and all!