by Vanessa Friedman

created at: 2011-02-10Hello from Haifa! Or should I say Shalom? I’m Vanessa, a 22 year old NYU graduate volunteering in Israel. I’m here for 10 months on a service program called OTZMA, which is sponsored by The Jewish Federations of North America, CJP and the Jewish Agency. My (just-under-a) year in the Holy Land includes learning Hebrew in Ulpan, volunteering, interning, and currently (most importantly) connecting with my Partnership City. As my family lives in Newton, I’m lucky to call Haifa my home for a portion of my program. I’ll be writing updates once a week about what OTZMA’s doing in Haifa. So without further ado, yalla; let’s talk about life in Haifa!

created at: 2011-02-09

View of Haifa from above. We live very close to that huge white building near the port–it’s a grain factory! (Photo courtesy OTZMA Israel Teaching Corps participant Rachel Baum)

OTZMA has been in Haifa for one month now, and I can’t believe how much it already feels like home. There are 7 participants living here, with the rest of our 33-person group spread all over the country. We are the largest OTZMA group in any one city (most cities have 2-3 participants) and we like to joke that we are the biggest AND the best! You can judge for yourself as I blog about our (mis)adventures. The lively and eclectic cast of characters here in Haifa include Ariel, Tracy, Shoshana, Max, Eli, Austen, and myself. We volunteer at many different sites in Haifa, both in groups and individually. Some of the places we have been working include: Ironi Aleph School, Reut School of Arts, Rambam Medical Center, Haifa Hillel, Haifa-Boston Connection, The Center for Aging, and a women’s shelter.

Though our volunteer work is extremely fulfilling, we still manage to make time for a bit of a social life. We live in student-housing apartments in the downtown area, and we love our neighborhood. We’ve been exploring the area, taking advantage of our close proximity to the German Colony and Hadar, a number of delicious restaurants (we’re particularly excited to check out all-you-can-eat night at Rak Basar, which literally translates to “Only Meat”), the absolutely amazing albeit totally overwhelming shuk, and really anywhere the incredible public transport system will take us. Tracy accidentally rode all the way to the beach on the 114 bus a couple of weeks ago, but it was so beautiful when she got there she said she doesn’t regret the mistake at all, and actually can’t wait to do it again! That sums up the Israel experience so far: we keep making mistakes, but often those mistakes lead us to opportunities and adventures that we wouldn’t have found if we’d done things the “right” way. I hope you’ll follow my posts each week to keep tabs on our life in Haifa. Until next time, lehitraot!

created at: 2011-02-09

 created at: 2011-02-09

Top: Even though it’s a rainy winter, we’re still taking advantage of all the things to do in Haifa–like the statue garden! (also Rachel’s photo)

Bottom: Vanessa and Ariel got lost the first weekend they traveled in Israel…it would be nice to say that never happens anymore, but that would be a lie (Photo by fellow OTZMAnik Lauren Zink)