Life Lessons in Israel

Posted on October 10, 2017

Four months since I concluded my volunteering, I am still stuck with all the amazing lessons and skills that I picked up. Not only did my Hebrew improve dramatically in perfect time for my army enlistment, but I now have more insight into demographics to which most American olim chadashim (American new immigrants to Israel) seldom get access.

Volunteering at a Hebrew speaking Memory Club serving Jerusalem’s elderly, I had the opportunity to bond with folks who once lived very busy, sophisticated, and successful lives, but now appreciate the little things. It taught me a lot about life and a lot about what’s really important. I also had to deal with quite a few tough and stubborn personalities which helped prepare me for my life in a country filled with tough and stubborn personalities.

One individual especially sticks out.  “M” was a grumpy elderly man who pretty much didn’t speak to anyone unless he was berating them. He picked me, a vulnerable immigrant with poor Hebrew, as the butt of many of his jokes. He would trip me, call me names, yell at me for my posture, and always ask me why I’m not wearing a kippah. Instead of being offended or avoiding M, I responded to his teasing with laughter, and in turn teased and fooled around with him. We developed a very close relationship based on fooling around, calling each other names, and making fun of each other. One day I was told that M would be out for a while due to a surgery.

After over a month of not seeing M, I was surprised to see him on my last day of volunteering. I was sure he would never remember me but I was greeted by the biggest smile in the world and a very violent hug and kiss on the cheek. That last day was very emotional saying good-bye to all the folks. They went around in a circle and all who could speak said a beautiful blessing for me. I received notes and pictures and a certificate. It was very hard to leave the group, especially another man  I had been paired with for my volunteering and with whom I had grown very close.

Because I had quite a bit of time on my hands, I actually accepted two different volunteer placements offered by Skilled Volunteers for Israel. I also volunteered at an afternoon learning center where I spent several afternoons a week.  There, I had a similarly educational and memorable experience.

This center is located in neighborhood with many Ethiopian immigrant families. I learned so much about Ethiopian culture, the Israeli education system, and again, about the simple things in life. It was really amazing to see kids come everyday to the center just because they felt at home and wanted to learn. The student with whom I met with the most was named M. He was 7 years old and the brightest kid I’ve ever met. M and I would go on walks looking over Jerusalem while I would quiz him on the English terms for various things and objects we would see in the road. Never have I met someone who has been able to absorb a language so fast. M’s mom and I still text months later.

Overall the experience with Skilled Volunteers for Israel gave me an extensive set of skills to help me live in Israel while providing me with life changing lessons that I can take with me everywhere I go.