this is the start of something good...

After having several bad dreams about my potential travel experience to Tel Aviv from Hagoshrim/Kiryat Shmona due to my past travel mishaps, I made it to Tel Aviv safely in order to meet my group this past Sunday afternoon.  We headed to Gedera and moved into our new house! None of us had any idea of what to expect, but we were all very pleasantly surprised.  Our new house is a furnished five bedroom, three-bathroom house with a nice sized kitchen, two outdoor porches and an herb garden sitting out front (pictures to come).  We are slowly working toward making this house our home as we are now all settled in. 

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by our program facilitator, Rachel, and community liaison, Avi, as well as a beautifully displayed falafel lunch.  In addition to our lunch, Avi and his niece welcomed us to Gedera with an Ethiopian coffee ceremony.  The coffee ritual is used in order to welcome guests and to create a sense of hospitality and family.  We continued the day with an opening session at our house, a walking tour of Gedera and dinner at Rachel’s home around the corner. After our first day, it was quite apparent that this journey we were about to embark on was going to be one of the most unique experiences we have ever had.

Avi, our community liaison, is an Ethiopian Israeli who made Aliyah (moved to Israel) with his family in 1991.  The big waves of Jewish Ethiopian Israeli immigration to Israel began in the 1980s and continued until a few years ago.  There are over 100,000 Ethiopians in Israel today, with about 1,700 living in Gedera.  Avi works for Friends by Nature (FBN), which is the grassroots organization based in Gedera that I mentioned we would be collaborating with during our program.

Before truly understanding what our job is here as Yahel participants, it is probably best to understand the goals and mission of the FBN organization with whom we are working.  We have had a couple of sessions with the staff leaders as well as the founders of the organization who have both given us better insight into the organization.  Some of FBN’s goals are to develop societal social-educational responsibility, develop young leadership, strengthen participants’ self-identity and potential, strengthen the family unit, refer youth at risk to positive programming and strengthen participants’ connection to Israel.  Friends by Nature established itself in the Gedera community in order to create positive change and work toward community empowerment.  It is a wonderful, wonderful organization and I cannot wait to tell you even more about the inspiring things they (and we, now!) are accomplishing here. 

Now, onto the gist of my experience thus far…in order to give you all a proper run down of our past few days without attempting to write a short novel, I will write about just a few special highlights. 

To begin, we were thrown in head-first during our first few days in order to really get a taste of the Gedera community – all from the community dynamics to how the village functions to understanding the community needs and then finally to understanding where we fit into it all.   

Over the past three days, we have been introduced to and experienced so much Ethiopian culture – something that I know will only flourish and expand within the coming months. The next week or so of orientation is not only for us to learn about the program/our duties, to begin Hebrew ulpan (Hebrew language study) or to build relationships within our group, but also to get better acquainted with the FBN staff. 
Yesterday we set out to a farm where the FBN staff was having its staff week.  We spent a night and a day on a beautiful moshav very close to Gedera.  Although we were under the impression we were going to be camping, it was actually more like eating, sleeping and living like a moshavnik – meaning we had electricity, running water, fully functional kitchen and all of the goods inside of a little house, but we also slept outside very close to the cows, roosters, goats, dogs, hamsters, guinea pigs, bunnies and geese.  During the last day I also helped to herd sheep.  Well, I didn’t really *help* so to say, I just followed the sheep around trying to pet their wool coats - one sheep and I really got along quite well actually…an interesting experience, I must say.

There were approximately 20 of us at this moshav, all with a common goal of learning about one another - everything from different culture to teaching style to childhood stories.  We cooked every meal together and ate around one huge table as a family – which is exactly what I came here to be a part of and find.  The Ethiopians danced, sang and told us old Ethiopian stories from their childhoods as we drank Arak and smoked hookah around a beautiful bonfire. 

In addition to delving into one another’s personal lives, we were also there together in order to prepare and practice for what it would be like to teach the Ethiopian children the English language in Gedera.  The Yahel participants were divided into two groups and we were charged with creating a game or lesson that we could do with the children to teach them English words having to do with nature.  We then presented our lesson to the FBN staff as though they were the children. I was a bit overwhelmed at first because I don’t have that much experience in creating a successful game that also acts as a cross-cultural teaching tool, but we ended up receiving great feedback and the process instilled in us a little more confidence.  It reminded us that although it will be hard at times, especially with the evident communication barrier, one of the main purposes of this program is to build relationships, and relationships go way deeper than just verbal communication. 

Even though I knew this beforehand, I’ve definitely come to realize that one of the greatest hurdles of this program will be the communication barrier.  Most of the FBN staff speak at least a little English, so we have been constantly teaching one another, but when it comes to the kids, I am unaware yet of how difficult it might be to work through that barrier.  Personally, I have needed to not be so self-conscious about using my Hebrew.  Now that I am living, working and playing in a community that is a bit “off the beaten path,” I have recognized the importance of setting that fear aside and knowing that making mistakes is okay and that is the only way I will learn.  Now that I am back in Israel, I am able to really speak and understand conversations more so than ever before, and although I still have a long way to go, I cannot wait to soak in as much of the language as possible during my stay. 

I really hope this note finds you all doing well – and hopefully enjoying some cooler weather than we have been experiencing here! I miss you all very much and can’t wait to update you again soon :)


It’s 5:15 am…know what that means?

It means I’m in Israel! And I can’t sleep. Perfect time to blog.  

The past week has been a whirlwind.  While in NY/NJ, I was able to spend some quality time with my cousins, for which I am so thankful.  Throughout the few days I was there, we went into the city and saw a Broadway show, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, ate at an amazing Thai restaurant that we fell upon on the street, visited the Museum of Arts and Design and enjoyed beautiful walking weather in the city. 

My journey to Israel began at 4:45 am two days ago.  Flying British Airways was a good choice, except for the fact that the turbulence was so terrible during my first flight.  Enduring up and down, side to side bad turbulence for 45 min straight was not a great start to the journey, but I had high hopes it was going to look up from there…

After arriving in London for my two hour layover, I found that my flight was delayed for an hour.  Given that, I thought it was a perfect time to skype my mom!  After reminding her of her username and password, we video chatted for the very first time as middle-aged English men sitting behind me creepily looked on in amazement.  If I hadn’t of already recognized the power of technology, it was at that moment when I knew that keeping in touch will be a little easier than I previously thought.  Thank goodness for that. 

My second flight was much better than my first.  After going through passport control, I picked up my luggage, which, by the way, I thought I did very good for 6 months of traveling, but according to planet earth, I way over packed – surprise surprise… After attempting to push around a broken luggage cart for 10 minutes, all while walking backwards through crowds of people because the wheel wasn’t working, I decided it would be best to get another cart.   I realized that if I left my luggage sitting for less than one minute by itself, it most likely would have been blown up in fear it was a bomb and so that being said, I knew that probably wasn’t the best option so I kept on with my backwards walking, obtained a new cart and reached my destination. Mission accomplished. 

After encountering many Israeli stern stares, I made my way down to the Ben Gurion train station where I waited for the next train to Nahariya. After settling onto the train and shoving my luggage in random places under the seats, I finally was able to soak in the beautiful sights. As I looked outside the train window, I was home again. 

And just when I thought it was smooth sailing…

I arrived at the train station and was greeted with a broken elevator, which should have taken me to the exit.  After a nice man helped me take my luggage down the two flights of stairs, I finally reached the outside just to find that my Uncle was nowhere to be found.  After walking around for 15 minutes, unsuccessfully asking a foreign woman for help and practically passing out from heat exhaustion, I see a familiar smiling face coming toward me and I couldn’t have been more thrilled! We headed to the north where we were meeting the rest of my extended family at Hagoshrim – a beautiful kibbutz resort near Kiryat Shmona.  The ride up to the north was another journey in itself.  The hour ride turned into a two-hour ride up and down the winding hills sitting on the border of Lebanon.  If I wasn’t nauseous already from the 25 hours of traveling, this car ride sure didn’t help.  After spending my time counting down the kilometers until we reached our destination instead of thinking about being carsick, my uncle realized we were a little lost.  Oy. We turned around, headed back down and around the winding hills until we stopped at a gas station. 

If the journey couldn’t get any longer, I then got locked in a tiny, hot bathroom for about 7 minutes.  As I pounded, kicked and yelled for help, the lock finally opened and I was free! I couldn’t believe it…but, yet again, I could.  I was in Israel and this journey was a sign that not everything was going to run as smoothly as it probably should…

After stopping on the side of the road because I got pretty sick, we finally found our way. As we pulled into the parking lot, I see to my left the foreign woman who I asked for help from at the train station an hour (or 2) away! It was such a coincidence…I wonder if her journey up here was anywhere similar to mine.

After a total of a 29 hour journey, I took a shower, settled into my beautiful room and then passed out…for the rest of the afternoon.  It was Shabbat and the entire family, 24 of us, sat in the Kibbutz sukkah for a wonderful Shabbat dinner and as we caught up with our lives and relived some distant memories, so many of my worries vanished and I couldn’t be happier to be back. 

It is now 6 am and I hear the birds chirping outside my window...I think I'm ready to go back to sleep for a few hours.  I spend the rest of Shabbat here until Sunday when I head back to Tel Aviv to meet my program…until then, I hope you all enjoy your first beautiful weekend of Fall! :)


here goes...

Some may call me crazy for deciding to have two separate trips before I even reach Israel - lugging around my two suitcases and my backpacking backpack, which conveniently turns into a rolling carry-on, all around the east coast with me.  And actually, some people have called me crazy, and even given me weird looks, especially when I trip over all of it.  But thankfully, I have met some very nice men along the way willing to help me pick up my luggage when I needed it most!

This past week I’ve been testing the waters, seeing what it is like navigating and exploring on my own.  I know I am about to embark on a huge adventure with many unknowns, but at least through it all I will know that I have my life packed up with me and will, hopefully, always feel somewhat at home.

I had the unbelievable pleasure of spending a few days in Washington DC with some very special people.  With the exception of my family and a couple childhood or college friends, each person I got together with in DC I have met on different Israel trips.  Interesting, right?  I think this says something about the kinds of relationships, people you meet and experiences you have on group trips, or any trips for that matter, to Israel…I am so lucky to know such amazing people that hold a very special place in my heart.  
One of my main reasons to detour to DC before heading to NY was to be able to see my great aunt and uncle and my extended family.  It has been a blessing to be able to spend quality time with them prior to leaving for Israel.  I wouldn’t have changed that opportunity for the world.  

my beautiful family
So, what kind of knowledge did I leave DC with this time?  First, what an incredible city it is, one that has a very stimulating, and young, environment.  I love being surrounded by intelligent people, especially people who know what is going on around the world, and DC is a wonderful melting pot of people just like that.  Although I can do without the constant political talk, I appreciate how DC is home to some of the greatest non-profits out there – and the greatest part about non-profits are the people that work for them, living every day for the cause they are so passionate about. DC could definitely be my home sometime in the near future…

Second, it’s close to impossible for me to explore a new city on my own without some sort of mishap, but then I guess it wouldn’t be as fun – or at least that’s what I tell myself.  Remember for next time that discovering new forms of transportation is great and very helpful, but be sure to know what direction the new form (aka the public bus) is going to be sure you aren’t leaving the state and going in the opposite direction you need to be.  My day of solo exploring led me to Silver Spring, MD, instead of the Federal Triangle, but at least I got to see the Discovery Communications building up close and personal – thankfully there weren’t any hostages this time! Although it was a couple hours later, I did get back to where I was supposed to be and it turned out to be a great day :)

As for my third and final bit of knowledge, as my friend Annelise so perfectly stated, do not stare, whatsoever, to anyone walking down the street.  For me this was very tough at first.  For one, I am a huge people-watcher, and second, I love making eye contact with people…shoot them a little smile or just to say hello.  But, after one smile and one hello, I realized Anna was right, as everyone I smiled to either tried to start up some weird conversation with me, like that he thinks we know each other or met before or something in his past life, or they will attempt to hit on you, and we all know that never works out well…

I took a train to NJ/NYC today and as I sit here with a glass of wine in my hand and with my cousins by my side, I couldn't be more content.  I'm looking forward to seeing more friends while I'm here - hopefully even some more from past Israel trips! Definitely some of the best friendships around…



...to my new blog!

This blog will be an outlet for me to showcase my upcoming journey - the good, the bad, the exciting and the, possibly, sad.

Following graduation this past June, I decided this next year of my life was the perfect opportunity to take some time to explore myself, but more importantly it was the perfect time to give back.

I've been incredibly blessed to have an unforgettable college experience, which has greatly prepared me to lead a rewarding life. Given that, I decided there was no better time than now to move abroad and, put simply, help people. I chose to be a part of an amazing program called Yahel Social Change. In just a couple short weeks, 5 individuals and I will be living together in Gedera, Israel to volunteer in the Ethiopian-Israeli community. Combining hands-on volunteer work with in-depth learning and immersion, we will be collaborating with a local community empowerment grassroots organization, Friends by Nature.

In these next few months, I'm looking forward to being challenged, being completely immersed in a new environment and culture, learning from my peers and exploring a whole new world. I'm going to take advantage of every second of this wonderful opportunity, and each and every morning when I wake up I will be sure to spend that day making a difference.

I am really looking forward to sharing my journey with all of you and I hope you decide to come along with me for the ride...