This week, I’m starting to say goodbye to the people with whom I volunteer here in Haifa, which is crazy. It feels like just a few weeks ago that I moved to this wonderful city. In fact, it was just a few weeks ago. In such a short amount of time, I’ve surprised even myself with the depth of the relationships I’ve formed here. Haifa has great people, beautiful views, arguably the best falafel in Israel, and more. But the real key to my amazing time as a volunteer here has been the variety of communities and experiences this city, and the people within it, have to offer.
They say variety is the spice of life, and I like spicy. Each week I’ve volunteered at the Haifa zoo, an after-school moadoanit, a kibbutz high school, a computer center, the national science museum, and a community center for the elderly. My friends here also have positions at many other schools, women’s shelters, and political organizations; there is something here for everyone. None of the connections could have happened, however, without the amazing guidance and support of the Haifa-Boston connection. Because of them, the OTZMA volunteers were able to choose between a wide array of volunteer sites; this initial match was important and valuable, as the Haifa-Boston connection staff helped to link organizations that were most in need of help to our specific skills and interests as volunteers.
At the zoo, I’ve enjoyed getting to know the zookeepers while caring for the animals (read: cleaning the cages), and as an added bonus, my Hebrew animal vocabulary has improved tremendously! Where my Hebrew has really improved though, is at the elementary school, where most of the children know zero (or very little) English. Through helping them with their homework, playing games outside, and doing arts projects, I’ve formed deep connections with kids who thrive on the positive attention and love they receive during these hours. When we start our day there, our faces light up as theirs do too. One of the kindergarten girls, Mazal, and I have developed a routine that when I arrive, we stand at opposite ends of the school hallway and she sprints towards me, jumps in my arms, and we twirl. With our loving greeting, we know our day has begun. 🙂
At the elderly community center, each member it seems has an amazing story of their own. They come a few days per week and receive breakfast and lunch during their days there. I’m perfecting my serving skills and, once again, improving my vocabulary, this time in the food arena. Between BINGO and backgammon (called “sheshbesh” here in Israel), though, are amazing conversations that I look forward to each week. The elderly in Israel have really seen it all, from their own upbringing (often in other countries) to the rich and dynamic history that has shaped their current home. Sometimes we talk about war, aliyah, the Holocaust. Sometimes they channel my own grandmother and grill me about boyfriends and how many kids I’ll have. And, more often than not, we sit, thankful for each others’ presence, and play dominoes. Fact: I still do not understand the point of dominoes.
I’ll miss Haifa. I’ll be back, frequently, but it’s sad that our time as volunteers has come to an end here. I’ve received so much, which seems backwards. Yes, I taught English and gave hugs and carried food for the lemurs, but most days I found the balance of what I was “giving” and “getting” to be skewed toward the latter; people were constantly offering me food, taking me on cool trips, letting me into their families and lives. As part of my volunteer work, I participated in a golf cart race, decorated cupcakes at a Purim party, napped with a bunny, played endless games of cards, danced onstage in a Batsheva troupe show, played soccer. It was almost always fun, new, and rewarding. I feel hopeful that I made a difference to a few people here, but certain that the people here made a difference to me.
I’m already looking forward to coming back.
I made a video of a week in my life as a Haifa volunteer:
For any questions regarding the OTZMA experience and volunteering as an OTZMA fellow, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.