Last week my fellow participants and I started teaching in our schools! I work at a school not too far from my apartment and I already love it! I am working with grades 2-4 and once a week I’ll be working with the 5th and 6th graders. My teaching partner, Tami and I were greeted with a sign that read “Welcome Volunteers!” and one of the students even brought in cake to welcome us to their school. My host teacher, Rosit, baked a delicious cake for Tami and me to celebrate our arrival. So sweet!
My elementary school is fairly small for Israeli standards (it has about 300 students), but compared to American standards, it feels massive. Each classroom has about 30-40 students, which is considered to be an average size. The Hebrew word בלאגן (balagan) roughly translates to the English for chaos or pandemonium. To say that the classroom is balagan is an understatement: the kids scream over each other, the teachers scream over the kids, the kids throw paper at each other, move the furniture around, and I sit cowering in the corner of the room. Needless to say, after my first day, I had a huge headache. While the classroom setting doesn’t exactly seem conducive to a good learning environment, these kids are amazing English speakers and readers and I was so impressed with their speaking abilities! I spent most of last week observing the classroom setting and routines, so I’m really looking forward to actually teaching after the Succot break!
Yom Kippur was last Saturday and this year, it was a completely different experience than my usual Yom Kippur. Usually, the annual fast feels like a cleansing experience. I really appreciate and respect the idea that I am actively atoning for my sins and acknowledging my flaws. I expected that since I’m in Israel this year, that feeling would be intensified and more spiritual than it has been in the past. However, this year’s fast was much more difficult for me. I think that it had to do with the fact that I am away from my family, in a new environment, and it certainly didn’t help that some people in my program were eating all day long. Since we all live in the same apartment complex, I could smell their delicious food. But I made it through! I went a full 25 hours without food, although I allowed myself to drink water this year since it’s so hot out here. Some girls in my program were able to find a really nice Conservative synagogue here in Netanya (I go to a Conservative synagogue back home), so the tunes and melodies of the prayers were comforting to me. Most of the members of this synagogue seemed to be native English speakers who made alliyah and it was nice that the sermon was in English.
After sundown on Yom Kippur, we had a potluck break the fast dinner in my apartment. There was so much delicious food! Shlomy, our madrich, or director, even joined us! It was really awesome to have most of the group together for a meal – it felt like we were our own little family. I took lots of pictures of the food and I will upload those to facebook soon.
In other news, Succot starts tomorrow. My family and I don’t really celebrate Succot, so I’m excited to see what it’s like here in the Holy Land! Tami and I were invited to the spend the evening with Noa, one of our students, and her family. We’ve never met the family before and I’ve only met Noa very briefly. The mom is an immigrant from Hungary and she said that she knows how scary it can be to move to Israel, so she very generously offered us a place in her home. She generously invited us to be a part of her family for the next 9 months. I feel very blessed being here with so many caring and big-hearted people that are eager to make me feel welcome!
We have 2 weeks off for the holidays, so next week I’m going on a cruise to Greece with 3 other girls from my program! Woo! I can’t wait! My parents are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary (kudos to mom and dad!) and are also going to be in Greece, but we’ll miss each other by one day. It kind of sucks that we’re so close to each other but won’t get to see each other, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. It’s nice that we’ll have similar stories to swap once we get back to our respective homes.
One last thing: I was hoping that I would be able to leave politics out of my blog since it is such a complicated and controversial issue, but I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t mention tonight’s news. Tonight, Israel and Hamas made a deal that will release Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier that has been held in captivity by Hamas for over 5 years! In order to ensure Shalit’s freedom, Israel had to agree to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons, many of whom are serving life sentences for terrorist attacks. I am extremely relieved and elated about Shalit’s release! He has been held prisoner for far too long, and for no good reason other than political strategy. I was actually in Israel when he was kidnapped and it is interesting that I will be here now during his release. When he was kidnapped, I was still in high school and his abduction opened my naive American eyes to the way of life in Israel. Being back in Israel now, I see how Gilad Shalit has become a rallying point: he represents every individual soldier that is out there, fighting to defend this country. He represents every mother who is up late at night worrying for the safety of her child. He represents every Israeli who faces the harsh realities of being a Jew in the Middle East. It is a tremendous show of character for Israel that Gilad Shalit is coming home. It truly shows the extremes that Israel will go to in order to ensure that every single one of its soldiers is valued as a son, as a brother, as a friend, and most of all, as a human being. No one deserves to endure the atrocities that Gilad Shalit lived through, and it is amazing that Israel is willing to do anything possible in order to make sure he gets home. I’m not going to lie, it definitely worries me that such dangerous terrorists will be released back into Hamas’ hands, but I have faith that the Israeli government making an informed decision.
To all my friends back home, I want to let you know that I miss you all so much! I wish that my blogging weren’t so perfunctory – it’s difficult to reflect on my life when I have limited internet use and a dying computer battery! I really will try to update this blog more often so that I don’t have to summarize 2 weeks of my life into one post. Please keep me updated on what’s going on in your lives since facebook stalking doesn’t provide me with enough details! I miss and love you all so much! I’d like to give a special shout-out to Eric, who did well on the MCAT! It looks like I’m going to be visiting someone at med school next year!