Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Warm Welcome in Beit Shemesh

I do not look Israeli. When I walk into a room, people see a young, white, westernized female. They probably assume that I am not Jewish and do not speak Hebrew. As a psychology major, I cannot help but take notice of human behavior and expression during cross-cultural interactions. This is what it feels like to be different, to stand out. I become anxious at the possibility of appearing culturally incompetent; I want to seem capable of belonging.

I am volunteering at ENP because I believe in empowerment and equal opportunity. Every member of the Ethiopian-Israeli community should feel as though he/she has the potential to succeed academically, economically, socially and become integrated members of Israeli society. As a spring intern, I have the privilege of being a part of this process by working with the children at the youth outreach center in Beit Shemesh each week.

Last week was my first visit to the youth outreach center. I met the children for the first time and realized that they spoke very little English. With the help of an English translator and basic knowledge of Hebrew, I was able to introduce myself as an American student studying temporarily at the Rothberg International School in Jerusalem. After taking care of the logistical information, another volunteer and I challenged a few boys to table tennis and pool. Amidst the games and laughter, I started to think about the challenges that I might face this semester. How might the differences between the Ethiopian-Israelis and myself affect their growth and successful integration? I am a white, Christian, female adult from the United States and speak English. Verbal communication will be a challenge in itself, but how can I communicate emotionally with the children when we come from vastly different backgrounds? Would they want to listen to someone who doesn't share their struggles?  What do we share? How can we connect?

Yesterday was my second visit to Beit Shemesh. It was an amazing visit because many of my questions and concerns from the previous visit left me. The Ethiopian-Israeli youth and I may not be the same age, gender, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or share language, but these differences did not hinder growth in our relationship with one another. Without hesitation, they welcomed me into their sphere and expressed warmth  and acceptance through their actions and gestures. After a few games of table tennis and pool, another volunteer and I decided to take three boys outside to play basketball. We taught them words in English like "pass", "dribble", "shoot", and phrases like "behind the back", "between the legs", and "no-look pass". We talked and the boys listened, repeating the words and phrases as we said them aloud. The outreach center does not have a basketball goal, so I created one using my hands and we played games until it was time for them to leave. We said our goodbyes, smiling as we parted ways and returned to the outreach center.

During this past visit, I found a connection between these boys and myself. We share a passion for sports and their attentiveness demonstrated respect, openness, and a desire to learn. Communication is more than just words...And acceptance is the sense of belonging I felt when three Jewish, Ethiopian-Israeli boys demonstrated out-group tolerance, allowing us to be strengthened by our similarities and differences. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Update from Petah Tikva

Written by: Leoni Groot

I start to get more and more familiar with the kids in the youth center. It’s so great to see them being happy with other volunteers, professionals, each other and me. It really creates a warm atmosphere.

This became especially clear during Purim, the crazy holiday where people are happy and dressed in costume. There was a girl that wore typical Ethiopian clothes: a white dress with colors. She won the costume competition. I was dressed as a zebra (see picture)

Another volunteer, called Moran, organized the Purim party. She made such a great job! There were many games kids from the youth center as well as kids from the neighborhood that I had never seen before. They played games that were guided by some youths of this outreach center. I was amazed by how they took responsibility over these games.

There was enough food for anyone. If one didn’t feel like playing games anymore, he or she could dance to the music that was played by a DJ. At the end of the evening we did the Harlem shake!

All the photo’s of this wonderful day can bee seen at the Facebook webpage of this youth center in Petah Tikva: It might be nice for everyone who is interested in this youth center to check out this Facebook page once in a while to see what’s going on here!

As you can see in the photo album of that Facebook page as well is that a man, who is a comedian, visited this center. Unfortunately I am really bad in remembering names, especially if they sound unfamiliar to me. But what is more important: I saw how the kids were really interested in this man. They asked him many questions and he answered them in a funny way (as I understood from one girl and as I saw the reactions of the youth). As a non-Hebrew speaker for me it was less funny, of course. Yet I was having fun by seeing the youth having fun, which is, I think, as much as important! 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Enrichment, empowerment and fun: first experiences as a new volunteer

Written by: Leoni Groot

Providing my help to an organization that makes a difference in the world: this was my idea before I left the Netherlands…

I sent ENP an email that I would like to volunteer to get more practical experience, and help them to empower the Ethiopian community. Not long after this, I got such an enthusiastic email back that made me feel welcome immediately. This didn’t change after my first entrance in the youth center in Petach Tikva and the office in Jerusalem. The warm feeling other volunteers, professionals and especially the youth gave and still give me is wonderful!

The idea to volunteer came up few months before finishing my BA of Cultural Anthropology in Utrecht, the Netherlands. I felt I needed to do something else before commencing my Master’s program: Learn something new? Volunteer? Travel? Why not a combination?! Last year I visited Israel for almost three months to conduct a research study about experiences of the maturation process in the army among citizens in Tel Aviv and surrounding areas. The amazing experience that I had in Israel, and the dynamics of the country intrigued me to go back and visit Israel again.

And here I am again, dedicating myself and helping out ENP in whatever needs to be done for six months. I volunteer twice a week in the youth center in Petach Tikva, providing English classes and hanging out with the youth. By doing this, I hope they will feel more comfortable to speak English. In addition, I tutor a girl with her English homework in one of the schools in Petach Tikva. Once a week I come to the headquarter offices in Jerusalem. There, I brainstorm with other volunteers about new cool ideas for the ENP, and ways to raise funds for the organization, attend meetings and upload items on the website. All these things I make my volunteering experience dynamic, interesting and wonderful, and above all the greatest experience in Israel!

One of the nicest things about this experience is that I get to learn about a new community in Israel, with its own manners, customs, food (which I hope to taste soon J), music and history. In other words, by being here in Israel I’m not only learning more about Israeli culture, but also specific cultural aspects of Ethiopian-Israelis and Ethiopia. All this together enriches my personality, and above all me as an anthropologist.

ENP is a well-organized organization. I see how everyone, with its roots from all over the world, works extremely hard to empower the Ethiopian community. To keep the development and progressive results within this community in the future as well I realize The Ethiopian National Project still needs more volunteers who want to make a difference in their own lives and in other people’s lives. This is why I call everyone to join this amazing national project and have a wonderful time with us!