by Vanessa Friedman

Shalom, long lost chevre! I bet you all thought my final Haifa blog post wasn’t happening, didn’t you? After all, it’s been over a month, and now I’m in Tel Aviv. How can I possibly have any more Thursday Thoughts from Haifa? Well never fear, I’m here to explain all in my (probably) last post about my amazing experience in Boston’s sister city. Ready? Yalla!

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The Golden Dome at the Baha’i Center’s Shrine of the Bab was finished just in time for our last night in Haifa.

OTZMA finished our placement in Haifa just over a month ago, and it was definitely a sad goodbye. The third and final part of the program requires us to get an internship in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Moving away from what had become a comforting community in Haifa to an even more bustling city like Tel Aviv has been a strange adjustment, but we’re dealing with it as best as we can (going to the beach every day certainly helps.)

This final post is all about Haifa, though, so let’s talk about that. One month after leaving Haifa, I already reflect on my experiences there with disbelief. We were given so much opportunity to affect the lives of the people we volunteered with, and to be honest most of the time it felt like they were affecting us even more. As I chronicled what each of my fellow OTZMAnikim were doing in these blog posts each week, my heart would fill with happiness. Watching each volunteer speak with joy about the work they were doing reminded me of my own feelings on a daily basis.

created at: 2011-05-30While in Haifa, I volunteered at several different places. I taught students at Ironi Aleph, played with children at a women’s shelter, lent a hand at Beit Hagefen Arab-Jewish Center, and of course, blogged for the Boston-Haifa Connection. While the work at each organization was different—I could go from teaching verbs at the high school to interviewing the librarian of the only children’s library in Israel to stock Arabic books; from pushing several adorable children on the swings to banging out a blog post to email to Boston—the final product was always the same: I didn’t feel like I was fulfilling an obligation. I felt like I was gaining more than I could possibly be giving. If anything, volunteering my time filled me with as much gratitude as the people I was supposed to be helping.

It can be hard to talk about a life-changing experience without sounding cliché. It seems like many people my age go abroad or do volunteer work and then want to talk about how it changed their lives. The problem with this cliché is that I don’t know how else to talk about it. Living in Haifa and volunteering in Israel has made me a different person than I was a year ago. I understand the country a little bit better, I love the people a little bit more, and I can now safely say that “home” is just as much Haifa as it is Boston. I guess that’s the only way to wrap up this post: as excited as I am to return home at the end of June, I’m just as excited to come back home as soon as possible.

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Haifa OTZMAnikim with our host families

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Final sunset in Haifa