Because my MASA program is run by Israel Experience, we partner with a few of our organization’s Taglit trips to bring birthright participants into the Israeli schools that we volunteer with. For PTK’s Taglit Day 2015, Yuvalim Elementary School was chosen, and I was one of the fellows selected to help plan and facilitate the event. Essentially, six of the PTK fellows (two of which are the fellows for the school year-round) got together and organized a day’s worth of activities that would weave Taglit participants into a day at an Israeli school. We came up with an itinerary for the day, different English activities that incorporated reading and writing skills, teamwork and bonding exercises for the students and Taglit participants, and were given a small budget to allocate necessary funds for supplies.
As a teacher at Yeshurun, I think that playing a part in the planning process was eye opening, as I saw how another pair of fellows works with their school and the relationship that exists between ITF and the administration there. Working with others is not always easy, and having a language barrier in the way of trying to plan an event for 50 Taglit participants and a school of over 200 children is not any easier. Because I don’t work at Yuvalim, I can’t even take credit for the logistics and the behind-the-scenes planning that went into physically making sure the day would happen and gaining cooperation from the school’s staff, but I can say that it was probably the most difficult aspect of Taglit Day. As fellows, we had a creative vision, and it was up to us to make sure that vision could become a reality for the 250+ Israelis and Americans, maneuvering around the school and literally taking matters into our own hands. Not to mention, the day before the event we were told that all of our MASA supervisors and pretty much anyone important in our program was going to be observing…
The theme for the day, which was decided earlier in the month, was “Ringing in the New Year”—for an event on December 31st that involved college-aged Americans, we couldn’t really ignore the fact that it was the Sylvester. And, it gave us a great opportunity to make a celebration! The students at the school prepared an opening ceremony with the Yuvalim teaching Fellows, where children were playing drums and guitars, cartwheeling and back-flipping in gymnastics routines, rapping in English about how excited they were for the day, and even a dance routine… we are talking Olympic Opening Ceremony Status here!
So to combine a bit of visual, audio, and kinesthetic activities, I started with a little PowerPoint Presentation explaining the concept of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Resolutions. Obviously I prepared ahead, and had the word for “New Year’s Resolution” in Hebrew, and tried to explain the concept as a “promise you make to yourself about starting a new positive change in your life”… I think a pretty accurate summation, no? I included a video of American students talking about their New Year’s Resolutions and gave the class a few examples. For the actual activity, I had Taglit participants sit with the kids and had paper and markers at the tables waiting for them. Giving the template that I *gasp* made myself, the goal was for everyone to work together to come up with some 2016 New Year’s Resolutions and look at 2015 in review.
To top off the Sylvester, I met my parents for dinner and said farewell after their 8-day trip. I guess for those of you who didn’t know, I should rewind and tell you that my mom, dad, and sister decided to come to Israel after all, for the Christmas—New Year’s vacation!! It’s easy to feel homesick around the holiday season, so their timing couldn’t have been better. The first day they came, I gave the grand tour of PTK—which basically means a walk through the shuk and the central street. It was cool to be able to show my parents my daily routine (they even stopped by Yeshurun), and feel true ownership of my city after four months. During their stay we also bopped around different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv including Neve Tzedek, Yaffo, and Sarona, and took a tiyul up north stopping in Zikron Yaakov (throwback to when MASA took us in September!), Akko, Haifa, and Tzfat. This means Christmas Eve was spent at Dr. Shakshuka and Christmas Day at Hod Hasharon Burgus Burgers Bar (BBB). Other than a giant Christmas tree spotted in the center street of Haifa’s German Colony, the holiday spirit left December with Hanukkah. But I guess in Israel, that’s the way it should be…
My brother and cousin arguably got the better tour of PTK, because theirs included a visit to Jems, the city’s own little local brewery. There are a few Jems bars throughout Israel, but the one in PTK is the first and the best. My cousin Rachel also came with me on Friday morning to South Tel Aviv as my ITF group volunteered at a kindergarten for refugee children from Sudan and Eritrea.
One part of ITF that I haven’t mentioned before is our Mifgashim, which in Hebrew literally means “encounters.” ITF prepared six sessions for us at Tel Aviv University, where we meet with Israeli University students affiliated with Hillel (a very different concept than that in Universities in the states), and discuss topics related to Judaism and Israel. The point is to hear from both foreign and domestic perspectives, make some friends our own age (most of whom are a bit older because Israeli’s cannot start college until after the army), and participate in real Israeli debate (2 Israelis, 3 opinions). Our most recent session included the community service project in Tel Aviv as part of the Mifgashim’s tikun olam theme, which translates to “repairing the world.” Although just a short visit, we spent the morning playing with the kids in the facility—a worn down basement with no windows and over fifty children aged 1-5 running around like maniacs. Because there’s normally only 3-4 staff members, I think it was a novelty for children to get individual attention, and for the younger ones especially, just to be held and have human contact. Most of the kids get dropped off around 7AM and will stay as late as 8PM while the parents are out working. Some of the ITF participants will be working with the kindergarten until the end of the year as part of their volunteer project I believe!
So as December 2015 comes to a close and January 2016 is upon us, I need to take a second to be mushy gushy and share my feelings about how happy I am to be where I am in life. A year ago, I was having nightmares and trouble sleeping, stressing over my future and the looming “rest of my life,” stuck in limbo and paralyzed by all of the seemingly endless possibilities. A year ago, I had never left the United States with the exception of Israel, and now have seen more of the world than I could have ever imagined. A year ago, I hadn’t faced my life fears or even had the chance to sink or swim. A year ago, I still had my tonsils!! (Had to include that one hehe). But seriously, between graduating University, backpacking Europe (shout out to skydiving), moving to Israel, becoming a teacher and making a new life for myself in a foreign country, I’ve taken a shot at more dreams in 2015 alone than the rest of my life combined. I feel like this is the year I’ve really started living, doing things for myself that extend beyond the physical and social constructs of society. I think I’ve started living for myself, and learning about myself, for myself. I am so happy that this is where I ended up, and where I’ll be starting the new year. I get to wake up every morning, happy.
Whether I’m waking up to ride my bike to school, to go to the garden, for my day off grocery shopping, seeing my Israeli family, or sitting at my favorite PTK café, I can honestly say I’ve never smiled more. While obviously things aren’t always perfect in paradise—I’m still myself and find ways to pile up responsibility and stress out as I always do, in a productive way—I am finding the stresses to be of a good sort. So while 2015 will be hard to beat, and I am already nostalgic for the adventures I’ve had, I am starting 2016 living the dream, and hope to keep it that way for as long as I can.
Happy New Year, folks!