Sunday, July 19, 2009

Goodbye Judy, Blog Post #8

Best part of today: meeting with and saying a sweet goodbye to Dagitu and Baush! After finishing the book, In God's Name, we answered the questions of who the characters were, what was the problem, and what was the solution. In this particular story, every character had a different name for God. They finally came together, saw each other's reflections, and called God the name One. The girls loved the illustrations and the idea that each person can think of God differently, AND that they could come together.

We shared snacks and addresses, took pictures, and wished we could continue. I gave them each a phrase book, telling them they should study it! Daily! They know English is useful and important to know, even as they devote some of their time this summer to studying Amharic and Mathematics. What touched me most was a beautiful letter they had written, which they read to me, thanking me for volunteering to help them with English. What lovely young people, who cared enough to acknowledge my work! It was, like the book we read, a reflection of what I tried to do.

The boys, alas, did not show up for their last lesson, so they missed out on the treats, lyrics, and phrase books, but as my friend Bob Carroll reminded me, "Education is the belief in the possible." I wish them well.

Thank you so much to Frayda Leibtag and Grace Rodnitzki of the ENP for making these special volunteer opportunities possible. Good luck, also, to Yisraela of the Jerusalem Gymnasia, with your study for the bagruyot.

My wish for ENP is that you can continue this critically important work. Kol tuv, perhaps we will meet again next summer!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Judy in Israel, Blog Post #7

"You Are Not Alone" was the subject of today's lesson, another song. This was more of a traditional love song. We then switched to a book called Elijah's Angel, the story of a friendship between an African-American Christian man and a Jewish boy. Avi joined us--hooray! He has an excellent command of Hebrew's nuances, so he can better understand shades of meaning in English. What a pleasure. Perhaps this is due to his schooling. He is very bright!

Something I noticed is that Elias pays attention to the names of the authors and illustrators of the books I bring in. In this particular case, the illustrator had a very long name. Avi laughed and remarked how that would be a challenging name to write on one's te'udat zehut--certificate of identification.

The book referenced American black slavery and the Underground Railroad.

Tomorrow we will finish the book and say goodbye, with the help of Stevie Wonder lyrics.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Judy in Israel, Blog Post #6

7/15 Song lyrics are powerful teaching tools. I've known this for as long as I've been a student of the Torah. And American song lyrics even have their place in education, as evidence by the great interest my students here have had in We Are The World. They have asked for other lyrics as well.

Today I was intrigued to see some new faces sitting down at the table. It seems that the English teacher (or the chance to learn English) is interesting, and the regulars bring someone new to meet me, check me out, see what the fuss is about. So I met Trngo, and Bobeh. Trngo seemed to feel that there was not much I could teach her, quickly taking a pen and writing words down faster than her friend could. Though hesitant to read out loud, she finally joined in. She seemed impatient with me, finding the story illogical. It was challenging. However, Dagitu hung in there, and was able to address the results and solutions to problems in the narrative.

The boys: Again, they were not to be found. I was so discouraged by this. But on my way out, one asked if we were to have our lesson today, and so we did! With him came Bobeh, an older fried, who is a security guard. Bobeh seemed genuinely interested in our lesson, which moved from song lyrics to belief and faith. Even Shulamit, one of the day camp staff members and non-Ethiopian, joined us. We also talked about the dangers of smoking, which they do daily.

I was so glad the day ended well (despite the cigarette smoke).

7/16 Today, Trngo did not return. Perhaps there was nothing she felt she could learn from me. But the other two girls were excited to study and write down many new words. We also discussed the importance of recycling and the dangers of littering and use of styrofoam (very topical given our study environment--they also feel bad when i wipe down a neglected table, explaining that in their culture, and adult should not have to do this. I explained that at my school in California, the teachers clean up after themselves.) They truly want to continue!

I get a kick out of their use of Amharic as their secret language.

Judy in Israel, Blog Post #5

7/9 I shared a book with Dagitu and Bayush this morning about Pesach (Passover) around the world. The section on Ethiopians was somewhat interesting to them, though it describes the world of their parents and grandparents more than theirs. They were excited to see the map yet had not idea how to read it. They were most interested in the recipe that accompanies each chapter, though the one described was nothing they had eaten. It used matza meal, which they did not understand/have a context for. Yet, they did recognize noog, an Ethiopian sesame seed paste that they love. They still enjoy some native foods, which are available here, along with the pots in which to cook them. They celebrate Pesach like more modern Israelis, complete with an egg and a Haggada. They were less knowledgeable about traditional Ethiopian ways of observing it.

2 boys didn’t show…2 did and one did not like the lesson, which began with a discussion on racism. Elias felt that people are people, no matter where they are. He seems to have encountered some uncomfortable stuff. He insisted we speak English whenever we lapsed into Hebrew. I took out a book on MLK Jr., whom he was aware of. How did he know about him?, I asked. He says he learns everything from TV since he has no books. He asked me for books. He appreciated and agreed with the message of non-violence for bringing about change.

Later that evening, I had a brief conversation with Meir, the fruit man. After hearing about what I was doing in Jerusalem, he commented that Israelis have no compassion for the Ethiopians.

7/10 I always learn new Hebrew words from my students. But today I learned that Ethiopians have opinions about Arabs. The local, more informal “shmatte man,” I guess, was making his rounds. I learned this because I heard something being said over a loudspeaker, repeatedly. I asked what it was, and I was told, “Those Arabs…”what a sorry cycle of prejudice.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Judy in Israel, Blog Post #4

The topic of one of my sessions today was the meaning of the following song:

Title: Michael Jackson - We Are the World lyrics

There comes a time
When we heed a certain call
When the world must come together as one
There are people dying
And it's time to lend a hand to life
The greatest gift of all

We can't go on
Pretending day by day
That someone, somewhere will soon make a change
We are all a part of
God's great big family
And the truth, you know love is all we need

We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So let's start giving
There's a choice we're making
We're saving our own lives
It's true we'll make a better day
Just you and me

Send them your heart
So they'll know that someone cares
And their lives will be stronger and free
As God has shown us by turning stone to bread
So we all must lend a helping hand

We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So let's start giving
There's a choice we're making
We're saving our own lives
It's true we'll make a better day
Just you and me

When you're down and out
There seems no hope at all
But if you just believe
There's no way we can fall
Well, well, well, well, let us realize
That a change will only come
When we stand together as one

Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie, the ideas in the song seem just as relevant. The girls were intrigued that proceeds from the sales (~$63 million dollars) were used for USA for Africa, to help with drought and famine relief there.

Themes of caring for others is really caring for ourselves, and making the changes you want to see seemed meaningful for them. Also, the idea of being part of G-d's family being created b'tzelem E-lohim, in the image of G-d, no matter who or where you are was powerful.

Thank you, Michael. Your words inspired young Ethiopians today.

Judy in Israel, Blog Post #3

Today: down to the business of figuring out a story's characters, problem, solution. Probably the challenge of every language learner to --you get the content but can't communicate well about it because you don't have the vocabulary.

One girl asked for Michael Jackson's song about feeding the hungry.. if we can read and translate it.

Our books have included Sandy Sasso's In God's Name, and a book called Stellaluna, about a bat who has to accommodate to life with birds. I chose these because of their themes of variety and tolerance, acceptance of difference and even embracing those differences, teaching each other.

A bit more...

A classroom I work in seems to be in the "school's over, what a mess" stage... a few doors down is a clean, state of the art computer lab! So I cleaned up and set up my room, and I was all set to use it and visit the computer room when I discovered a few things--

-only one student of my group of 4 had shown up and did not want to have our class alone, so he left.
-the others had left earlier.
-the building needed to be locked due to vagaries of who is in charge of the building on certain days.

The frustrations of truancy and bureaucracy were present today...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Judy in Israel, Blog Post #2

Judy's experiences in Israel continue…

7/7 Today was a day for Hop on Pop, just for me to get a sense of what I was dealing with. The girls felt successful with this! It is hard to believe coming from the States, that HS girls were finding Dr. Seuss so interesting. I was truly afraid of insulting them, but they really enjoyed it. I also showed them how I use the Internet, which was rather foreign to them. I thought it might be a great tool for furthering their English reading ability. They seem to live in a kind of bubble of poverty and ignorance in some ways. One student didn’t come simply because she hadn’t the money for bus fare that day.

7/8 The day began with Yisraela, who walked from Armon HaNatziv to German Colony to study with me, a good 40 minutes. It was wonderful to sit with her in CafĂ© Hillel, soaking up the mellow jazz, enjoying a great pastry and coffee, and working with this super-motivated young woman. The topic: CD reviews. It wasn’t all that difficult, and she stuck with it. We spent a great 1.5 hours together. She is hesitant to do this work without me, though I encourage her to.

My next 2 students tried Cat in the Hat, a book that has a more easy to follow narrative than Hop on Pop. It was brand new to them. English is so full of idiomatic language that it can be very frustrating! The lack of consistency is maddening.

Our conversation wandered between why some people don’t’ have computer access, to the challenges of motherhood they see their moms dealing with, to their own fears about it. They seem to want to work outside the home, though have no idea in what. They are curious, lovely people who could go far, if given the tools! We also touched upon how American Jews feel about Israel, issues of support and opinion both here and abroad. They are very supportive and it is hard for them to understand why others might not always be. We also tried to define clearly what the difference is between a state and a country. The US is so large that it is hard for them to grasp relative sizes of places. Additionally, we touched upon Gush Katif and issues of upheaval. They knew about that firsthand.

They were interested in “miracle stories,” stories of heroism during military operations. They told me of the Rachel Imenu legend, which they found fascinating, and for them it is true. (

The hardest part of today with them was hearing about their parents, some of whom came here as professionals but now work as house cleaners…they are too tired by days’ end to study Hebrew, the key to their professional success. It seems like a vicious cycle.. I guess I am feeling strongly about Israel’s struggles to take care of this population—if we brought them then we surely must. But the pie seems cut into such slivers….I felt very sad for this situation. I continue to be so pleased however, that they greet me with a smile daily, and are truly trying.

Finally, today I met with 4 boys, ages 14-20. They were a lot of fun! They love and sing American music, are very curious about America, and have fine reading and comprehension skills. They want to learn CURSIVE! I explained that this is not as popular in America anymore with the advent of keyboarding, but they said it is so beautiful that they must know it. They also wanted comprehension questions on some literature. The only books I had with me were the Cat in The Hat I had used earlier in the day. These lads were familiar with it from the movie or series (?). Again, I felt awful for not having something more age-appropriate, but they jumped right in. I asked them many comprehension questions and they were strong. We decided to divide our time between conversation, reading, writing, and comprehension skills. They were so thankful, so active, and very joyful with each other. They found me pretty funny, way too ignorant about anything related to rap and hip-hop (they don’t know my music at all), and overall very entertaining! One admitted to struggling with drugs and alcohol, and missing the last 2 years of high school. He is past the army but has no money for university. He’d like to travel. They all work at a day camp, one goes to a Reform Jewish school, and one seemed Jewishly knowledgeable with strong opinions about gender roles. One knew that that were all kinds of Jews in America and Israel, and seemed fine with that. They are disappointed that my time is limited here. So am I. I feel I should do so much for these boys, who are so eager to learn and grow. They found their way into my heart very quickly.

Judy Massarano in Israel

ENP's newest volunteer in Israel is Judy Massarano, an English teacher from Berkeley, California who came to Israel for the express purpose of volunteering with ENP. Judy is volunteering in Jerusalem and sharing her vast teaching experience with ENP youth. Her blog posts are written in a free-style, stream writing format. ENP hopes that Judy will inspire you to come volunteer with us here in Israel as well!

6/28-29 Early impressions
I always wanted to volunteer and specifically, learn about this population. Earlier trips had been as a student, then 22 years later as a tourist, then as an educator with a group looking at how Israel is taught in America, then finally as a chaperone for an 8th grade school trip. it was time to give back.

I met 3 girls, Azanash, Menna, and Merdana, all in 9th grade, all wanting to become more successful English speakers. They seemed typical in some ways, but have less affect than most teenage girls, either American or Israeli that I know. They listen to music, are interested in sports, animals. I was sad to learn that they are on the outside, that is, due to their color and questioned Jewish status, it is less common for them to be seen integrating with the indigenous Israeli girls. That made me so very sad.

They struggle, less with Hebrew, of course, but with English to an advanced degree.

Today I met two more students, Dagitu and Ba(y)ush...

7/5/09 Today I met with 4 Ethiopian teenage girls, with beautiful names and faces. They were all eager to learn, some more shy than others to try out their English with me. We spoke for a few minutes before reviewing letters, words, numbers, colors, and body parts. I asked them various questions. i had spent Shabbat in Beit Shemesh, where I noticed that in the predominantly Ashkenazi synagogue, a good number of Ethiopian women sat together yet did not participate, due, I was told, to their inability to speak Hebrew. "They pray in their hearts," said one girl, "or even in Amharic. They listen!" This same girl wondered about America, and acceptance of Jews. She pointed out that here, she stands out as Ethiopian, there she stood out as a Jew. Where does she fit?

Another girl asked, "What is a nigger?" The others knew this meant "kooshi." I asked where she had heard such a word. She said that young children here called her that. She was not upset by it, but I was very upset. I explained how that word is usually used as a terribly insulting name--they understood that to mean a kind of curse word. They wanted some background as to my own strong reaction. I told her how wrong it was to use a word that was used in the States to belittle a person of color.

2 others, very joyful girls I saw today also asked about America, and could anyone go there-- was it free in that way? I said, mostly... They then said they miss Ethiopia sometimes and still remember it, though life here is alright. They still have some family there. Their parents miss it more than they. They asked about the driving age in the States, and why it was so young. They hope to drive some day but realize it's a big responsibility. They help their parents with English, but difficult English is beyond them, too. They asked, "Why don't you live here?," as in, isn't this the obvious choice for a Jew?

They strike me as trying to sort out their own feelings. One plans to study medicine, and knows that English is key.

This afternoon I briefly met the boys whom I hope to study with. There are 3, who seemed interested and ready to work with me. We will begin on Wednesday.

Yitzchak, my contact person, met me at Matnas Lazarus in Talpiot. I learned that he gives psychological support to teens who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, etc. I had many questions--he said the boys felt fairly accepted, but he reflected on the Ethiopian experience in response to my questions about their absorption. he discussed the various airlifts and how each time the experience was different. Earlier groups felt welcomed though culturally there was a divide. But this generation struggles with their status as Falash Mura, so they must go through a 3 year process of conversion in order to gain equal rights. Additionally, the 'tainted blood' episode for him personally, was scandalizing and painful.

These are a brave people, in a country struggling to help so many.

7/6 Thank you, you’re welcome, and bruchim ha’ba’im…English is very confusing! I learned that in their synagogue, tefila is done twice, once in Amharic, once in Ivrit, as the generations form one community. Will they hold onto the Amharic? I met Yisraela, super-motivated, we bought bagrut practice books. She is in a modern family, who ‘left behind’ all of the traditions, she said. We worked about 2 solid hours.