Simple Goals – Rewarding Experience

Posted on December 18, 2013

My goals when I applied to Skilled Volunteers for Israel were simple:

  1. find an “excuse” to spend a few months in Israel;
  2. reconnect with the family that hosted me as a high school student for 6 months in 1970;
  3. revive and improve my Hebrew;
  4. get to know Jerusalem; and
  5. “understand” Israel today.

My training and experience are in the areas of writing and translation, and I most recently worked for a nonprofit in Pittsburgh, where I live.  I am currently halfway through a 3-month placement as an SVI volunteer with Tzav Pius (tzavpius.org.il) in Jerusalem.  So how has it been?

Debbie Shatten, (right) with Tzav Pius Staff

Debbie Shatten, (right) with Tzav Pius Staff

The placement has been awesome.  Tzav Pius is a warm and wonderful place to work — small office, nice people, lunch with the staff every day.  Aliza, the organization’s executive director, has gone out of her way to make me feel welcome and to structure my time (3 days/week) thoughtfully.  I have been asked to do “real work”:  translating the organization’s website, correspondence, letters to the editor, etc.; creating catchy headings for a presentation in English; using my familiarity with the Jewish community in the US to help develop marketing and funding strategies.  In other words, I have been doing the things I like and know how to do.  The hardest part of the job has been learning enough about Israeli society — i.e., how the educational system works, concepts of Israeli identity and Jewish identity — to be able to write about it in English in a way that will convey the substance and value of the organization’s work — encouraging Israelis from a range of religious backgrounds to live and learn together, with mutual respect and cooperation — to an English-speaking audience.

OK, enough of the serious stuff.  Let’s look at what this trip has really been about:

  • Spending time with my Israeli “sister” and her family.
  • Experiencing the biggest snowstorm in the Middle East in the last 60 years, and “educating” the office staff about the use of “Pittsburgh parking chairs” to save parking spaces when it snows (I believe in the value of cultural exchange).
  • Seeing lots of Jerusalem, much of it unintentionally:  no day is complete until I’ve gotten lost at least once.
  • Enjoying a music and dance symposium (with featured performances, including one by my “sister”) at Hebrew University, a special exhibit at the Bible Lands Museum on the history of the Bible, and lunch at King of the Grill in Baka al-Gharbiyye (near Haifa).
  • Getting to know and appreciate the advice of Marla and Judy of SVI.
  • Rating the hummus from the various hummusiyas in Jerusalem.
  • Meeting people from all over the world at talk cafe (talkcafe.co.il), where we work on improving our ability to speak in Hebrew.
  • Learning that I have the ability to publish regular posts to a blog.

And last, but certainly not least,

  • Navigating an infinitely-maddening healthcare.gov from halfway around the world in an attempt to get new health insurance that (I hope) will take effect before I return home.

The bottom line, so far:  Not perfect (what is?), but pretty darn good!