Today’s participant blog post comes from Jillian Gogel, a current participant in the Yahel Social Change Program. Jillian’s group is living, learning and volunteering in Lod, Israel for 9 months this year. This post was adapted from Jillian’s personal blog, which can be found here.
After a bit of finnagling and some patience, I’ve landed myself a placement with Matnas Chicago, the local community center that primarily serves the Arab community in Ramat Eshkol and Lod in general. More importantly, I will be working with the awesome Arab women’s group which I found out tonight is MIGHTY powerful. Granted, there is quite a language barrier here, but in the two occasions in which I’ve gotten to spend some serious quality time with these women, I’ve already genuinely laughed at some jokes which were not said in a spoken language I could understand, but were delivered in intuitively obvious ways. I can already say that I want to bring the full force of my energy into preparing and working with the Matnas and these women, but I know that ALL parties involved here will receive quite a bit from one another.
The Arab-only women’s group meets every other week starting around 5:30pm and lasts anywhere between one to two and a half hours. On alternate weeks, these women meet with a similarly formed Jewish women’s group, which is what took place this evening. What an incredible experience, and what an absolute honor it was to be present with the energies and narratives of these powerful women. There were a few tears, much mutual respect all around, MANY laughs, and, in typical Israeli fashion, a bit of dancing at the end. On the part of myself and my colleague, Alex, who is the other Yahelnik working at the Matnas with the women, there was also a lot of translation which is deeply appreciated but of course creates a different sort of experience. Nonetheless, after attempting some atrocious basic Hebrew in a group introduction and a lot of focused attention on the conversation and activities, we still ended up receiving a hearty welcome to get up and dance with the collective and overall were graciously received by the group.
Speaking of inclusion, among other fine activities, the manager of the Jewish group passed out six intriguing cubes (filled with candy, of course) on which were written inspirations, wishes, and general positive energy for individual and collective well-being. After a few passes at translation, I was able to figure out that each woman was meant to choose one of the many well wishes written on each face of the cube, share an anecdote or personal reflection on this thought, and then walk the cube to another woman for whom she wished it. This. was. beautiful. The trials and resulting strengths many women shared, as well as the authenticity of their love for one another, was deeply moving and emotional regardless of language barrier. To add to an already bright experience, one woman, of whom I’m growing particularly fond and who told me that I could speak to her in Spanish of all languages if we were having communication issues (yes!!!), stood up and passed the cube to me, wishing that I would make it to every place I sought to reach. It all happened in a blur, mid-translation, but the fact that I was included in this process AND that, given our broken communication, I had still been heard in what I had previously shared meant the WORLD to me and seemingly instantly peeled back a layer to another vast dimension of unity in this place. The human being is an INCREDIBLE being, capable of giving and receiving so much, and I often wonder what the world would be like if everyone knew this. Special thanks to Lila for this gift, not often given and less often received, these days, by me. You’re a dear dear being of light and I look forward to getting to know you better.
Another significant activity of the night involved song lyrics but also doubled as a beautiful poem which everyone really dove into after a minute or two. After they were read aloud, the forum was open for many people to discuss the particular passages of the song and relate them to their own journeys and struggles. We began to speak of love and how, by majority consensus and the lyrics themselves, it was considered to be a continually painful encounter even though it is still something with which we should press forward and in which we should have faith. Broadening up, the song spoke of a woman, powerful, whose greatest strength came from her heart. She faced a myriad of challenges, but always, this strong, powerful heart defined her and, perhaps, her eventual success.
I found this fact, that strong, powerful women ARE distinguished and defined by their hearts to be particularly compelling and ironic considering my given location. Even without understanding every word, I could FEEL, my heart connected to theirs, as the dynamics and energies shifted, as our support rose and fell in a moment whenever necessary, as the love was shared plentifully around the room. I had plenty of time to open myself to the energy of the room and both observe, without judgement, and submit to the needs and desires of every speaker. For more than one moment, I felt as though our powerful hearts were speaking to one another and THAT is a language all can understand – no words necessary. This reminded me that we ARE powerful women and that we ARE moving forward. I suspect this group will be personally empowering for me as well, despite the stark difference in background between myself and many of the others.
I am feeling BLESSED right now, and deeply honored. I am VERY MUCH looking forward to the coming months and am sending truly good vibes to all those women, and all of you, because especially after a night like this, there is plenty to go around.