Finding My Place in the Tabenkin School

Today’s participant blog post comes from Danny Golde, a participant in the Onward Israel Diversity & Pluralism Program.  Danny’s group is living, learning and interning in Jaffa, Israel for 8 weeks this summer. His original post can be found here.

The first day I stepped into the Tabenkin classroom I was nervous. I was an American, with poor Hebrew walking into a classroom full of rowdy Israeli kids who spoke only Hebrew. I thought maybe I should have asked for an office job. I knew the unruly reputation of Israeli kids, and I was even told by an American-Israeli friend that they were going to give me a hard time.

The manager introduces me to the head counselor of our classroom while she is speaking with a new kid. It was his first day, just like me. I crouch to be on his level, and start speaking my broken hebrew. I ask him his age, and his grade. He shyly answers, barely looking at me. I extend my hand to give him a fist bump. As my hand floats in the air, he looks confused (fist bumping is not a popular greeting in Israel). His face lights up as he turns to face me. He reaches back, and we bump knuckles. I  told him that it was also my first day, and that I was also nervous.

As the day went on, I got to know each kid. There are only eleven in the class. Within the first week, the kids had made it easy for me to make a connection with each of them. Unlike the American kids I had worked with all my life, these Israeli kids were not shy with me. I am the only male counselor, and the only American. While I thought that these kids would alienate me because of my glaring differences from anyone they knew, they were enamored and eager to get to know me. I felt like a part of the Tabenkin family from day one.

Now I have been working at Tabenkin for over a month. I have worked at many summer camps, but I have never felt this kind of connection with any kids I have worked with before. My hebrew has improved, I have bonded with the other counselors, and my time spent with the kids continues to be the highlight of my day. When I go home for the weekend I miss the class. When I am with them I feel like I belong. There is nothing I would rather do with my day than spend it at Tabenkin school. In all honesty I have contemplated not coming back to the USA, and instead continuing to work with these kids for the year. I know that this is not realistic, but I can’t imagine being happier doing anything else.

I think I am making a difference.  Many of these kids come from broken homes and many do not have fathers. I hope I can be the male role model that so many of them lack. As I write this I realize how pretentious I sound. But when one of the girls who comes from a single parent household asked me if I could swing her from my arm like her dad used to do, I realized how much they need this program. They are kids, but they have so much strife in their life. Let me be clear, volunteering for a summer is not enough. It does not even scratch the surface. In fact I sometimes wonder if it is harmful for me to come in and then leave. Unfortunately they are used to volunteers coming and going. That sucks. I don’t want to be some American who came and left.

I don’t want to end this post on a sad note, but a realistic one. I am putting a bandaid on a gaping wound. At least I know that I will work with kids for the rest of my life. At least they made me sure of that.

I love Tabenkin. I love Bat Yam.

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