Today’s participant blog post comes from Melanie Kartzmer, a current participant in the Yahel Social Change Program. Melanie’s group is living, learning and volunteering in Lod, Israel for 9 months this year. This post was adapted from Melanie’s personal blog, which can be found here.
31 December 2016
As we approach the end of the year, I can’t help but fall into my annual debate about the concept of “resolutions”— contemplating how worthy the exercise of reflection and forward-thinking really is. If you open any women’s magazine this time of year, you will almost always find an article with claims of how to REALLY stick to your resolutions this year— everything from starting in December instead of January, committing to smaller, achievable goals, pairing up with a partner on a goal and other “secrets” of how people can really stick to their resolutions this time. Committing to making changes in order to achieve our innermost hopes and dreams seems to be a universal challenge. Admittedly, there is something appealing about goal setting at the beginning of a new year—January 1st feels like a symbolic fresh start. So I could start brainstorming my usual list of desires… to save money, get in better shape, pursue new hobbies, stay in better touch with long distance friends, etc. (all valid and things I’d really like to pursue), but my approach this year is a bit different. My new year will start with practicing gratitude.
It’s been about three months since I packed up my things and moved across the world to Israel. Things can be disorienting, strange, and uncomfortable when you move to a new country regardless of how much you prepare yourself mentally. There have been challenges that I anticipated (sharing a room, lack of certain creature comforts, homesickness) and those that were unexpected (how much the language barrier would impact me and cultural differences between schools in the U.S. and Israel). But even with these challenges, there is a strong feeling of appreciation for the people and things in my life here that make me feel at home or provide comfort, distraction, or happiness that is unlike anything I have experienced. Below are some of those things.
Generosity of strangers/new friends
One of the first things I noticed since moving here is that everyone you meet, whether they’re a friend of a friend, a substitute Ulpan teacher, or a neighbor, will invite you to Shabbat dinner. And it’s a real invitation! It’s not like in the states when you bump into an old acquaintance and promise to “catch up soon and have lunch.” It is a legitimate offer, and one that is not unusual or the slightest inconvenience. I’ve experienced a different level of welcoming, generosity, and inclusion from these people that reminds me to live with an open heart. A few weeks ago, a friend and I were leaving our house to pick up a few things from the store on the way to one of our placements. It was pouring rain and ferociously windy. Just as we stepped out of the house, a friend of one of our neighbors (shuttling three children with her) was heading to her car. Immediately, she offered us a ride before even asking where we were headed. This offer was shocking to us. The friend of our neighbor certainly had her hands full, and there was absolutely no expectation or obligation to give us a ride. And yet to her, it wasn’t unusual or a hassle. It was just the way you should behave. There is a warmth and kindness that exists in Israel when it comes to opening your home or door to someone. It seems embedded in their values. When you’re invited into a home, nothing seems like too much to ask. Food and drink is always offered, and you are made to feel at home. Yahel also pairs us with a host family, and mine has been nothing but welcoming and generous— extending an invitation to come to Shabbat dinner every Friday without question. These acts of kindness have not only made me feel more supported and settled here, but they deepen this value of openness that I will surely take home with me and will likely influence me for the rest of my life.
Opportunities provided by the Yahel Social Change Program
When I decided that I wanted to come to Israel, I did a lot of research into the various programs available. While I was convinced that Yahel would be the best fit for me, there is always a certain amount of faith one puts in the universe that “the unknown” will be everything you hoped for. I am incredibly grateful that I landed where I did because the opportunities I have been granted within the program and in Lod are truly remarkable.
On a seminar last month, we went to Maghar, a Druze village in the North, and it was unlike anything I’ve experienced. Yahel has a relationship with an organization called Ofakim L’Atid (Horizons for the Future), an organization committed to helping progress the Druze community in Israel through developing leadership skills amongst the youth, building and strengthening Druze communities, and educating Israeli society about the Druze population. We met with a Druze religious leader, participated in ice-breakers (led by yours truly) with Druze young adults who are part of the organization, and got paired with families whose houses we would stay at for the night. Sofy, Rachel, and I went to one of the families’ houses and ate one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had (see: generosity above). We spent the evening chatting with the kids of the family (ages 19, 16, and 11) learning about the values, customs, and experiences of the Druze community.
Another incredible opportunity I have had is through my work at the Lod Young Adult Center (YAC). One of my main responsibilities (along with Sofy, another Yahel participant) is running an English Club for adults. The purpose is to give adults the opportunity to speak and improve their English in a fun, low-stress environment. We created programming for our first session, but a few days before, the director of the YAC informed us that the English ability of the group might be lower than we expect. This did not deter us! On the first night of the club, 11 people showed up, and it was an incredibly diverse and interesting group. The group was a mix of Ethiopian Jews, Arab Israelis, Jewish Israelies, ages 19-45— all in one room conversing in English! We facilitated ice breakers and games for them to get to know each other (and us) and laughed a lot. It went better than I ever could have imagined. At the end of the session, we had a short debrief and asked them to suggest topics they’d like to discuss or tell us what exactly they’re hoping to get out of their experience here. They all burst into applause for us, and it was a moment I will never forget.
2016 was a great year for me— I finished a second successful summer at my day camp in Denver, I traveled to Thailand for 2 weeks, I ran my first 10K, I visited Israel for the first time in 6 years and then decided to come back to live here for 7 months, I met my boyfriend, I became an aunt, I started learning how to play guitar, and I spent thousands of hours with friends and family who I deeply cherish. And while there is surely a laundry list of things I would like to accomplish in 2017, today, on the eve of the new year, I choose gratitude. And maybe tomorrow I’ll get to setting those goals…