Winning Hearts in 4 WeeksPosted on March 21, 2016
Adah Radzin volunteered in January 2016 in Bat Yam through a placement organized through Skilled Volunteers for Israel.
Tachkemoni is an elementary school with 400 children in grades one through six. The school is in Bat Yam, a poorer city cousin of Tel Aviv. The school building is built for a warm climate. The walls are thick concrete and despite the sometimes cold and rainy weather the doors are always open to the play yard. At recess time and there are two a day, the children fill the yard with the noise of their play. They run and dart around the in constant motion. When the incoherent vaguely patriotic music summons them back to class, they charge up the stairs and through the halls to their respective classrooms. Movement and noise abate only slightly as the teacher enters the room after them. What happens next I am not privy to. My job is to take small groups of fifth graders to a small, crowded often chilly room for supplemental English lessons.
The first few meetings with the children are spent getting acquainted. They ask me questions about my family, home and pets in the United States. They share particulars about their families, pets and likes and dislikes. I try to relay information in both Hebrew and English. When I translate what I have said into English, they make an effort to repeat the words after me. We all enjoy these interactions. They love the pictures of snow and deer in my back yard that I share with them. I especially enjoy their curiosity. They are not shy about asking questions even personal ones. Their quest for information is exciting.
Eventually after a session or two we graduate to more specific instruction. My task in working with these children is to prepare them for the Meitzav, a standardized English test in which both the students’ and school’s performance will be evaluated. The children’s grasp of oral vocabulary by my standards are good. However they struggle with the differences between these two very dissimilar languages. Their word order naturally mimics Hebrew where the adjective comes after the noun. Their use of helping verbs is minimal since they don’t exist in Hebrew. They understand that a “big’ letter starts a sentence, but this knowledge does not generalize to capitalizing proper nouns, since there are no capitals in Hebrew. They write laboriously, not used to forming English letters, and the spelling eludes them as Hebrew is a much more phonetically regular language than English. They do remind me to curl the bottom of the “t” so it doesn’t look like a cross. This is after all a religious government school and certain customs have to be observed.
Many of the children who attend the school however are not religious, as is obvious with a good number of the boys who seem to consistently misplace their kippot. The regular teachers have to wear skirts, and eventually the children get around to asking me why I don’t and even ask if I am Jewish. This question goes beyond the skirt issue. It comes from their surprise that someone from so far away shares a common bond.
The faculty and administration are welcoming. They are genuinely thankful for my contribution. The principal and vice principal embarrass me with their expressions of gratitude. The English teacher whom I work with is ill most of my stay, but she keeps in contact with me regularly by phone. The secretary greets me every day with an offer of tea or coffee. Even the Shomer, guard, teases me gently about my daily excursion to the corner bakery for “Café Hafouch” a strong brew of steamed milk and coffee.
At the end of my four weeks of volunteering I receive a surprise, a collection of thank you notes penned by the children. There are hearts and strewn throughout the pages. I can only respond in kind with love and affection and hopefully a return visit next year.