ConnecTech is a year-long fellowship for MIT and Technion Jewish students. The primary focus is on student interaction—creating personal bonds between small core groups of students at each institute and strengthening a sense of Jewish peoplehood. For more information or to read our Fellows’ bios, visit our website.
Today we awoke early to meet leaders from CJP Haifa before embarking on a full and exciting day, the last of the program. Our first stop of the day after breakfast was at Horim BaMerkaz—Parents at the Center—which is an early childhood education center that doubles as a place of support and information for parents. The Center, currently in its sixth year of operation, is funded by Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the same Boston-based nonprofit that supports ConnecTech. The grounds, however, show no signs of age. The school was intentionally built in an underserved neighborhood and many of the families have limited resources. The Center’s leaders have discovered that an aesthetically clean and beautiful environment is empowering for families accustomed to services that are neither, fostering pride and strength in the community.
At least, this is what we heard from school leaders as we met in one of the school’s classrooms over tea and snacks. We watched a film telling one family’s story and the impact of the Center on their lives. I maintained a healthy skepticism until we were led outside to join one of the classes in progress.
In the class were about eight kids between the ages of 3 and 4, their eight mothers, a teacher and a psychologist. One of the mothers played guitar and sang a song welcoming each child to the class. We sang a bit more before we dispersed to run around the playground. The parents, we were told, faced various hardships: many were recent immigrants (often from the former Soviet Bloc), single parents, economically disadvantaged, or a combination thereof. Many of the children, too, had psychiatric or developmental disorders. Yet in this moment as we played together—putting stickers on one another’s faces, working on a collage—everything was okay, secure, modulo the one kid kicking beach balls toward head level with a Messi-esque leg. In circumstances such as these there is no panacea, no easy answer, but the communal strength I witnessed is an essential component for success in an environment where it is so easy to grow despondent, and I am glad to have witnessed such a special place.
I penned most of this reflection in Ramat HaNadiv (literally “The Known Benefactor”), a beautiful park in the north of Israel, which is the final resting place of Baron Rothschild and his wife, Adelaide. For lunch we enjoyed “American Pizza,” which is evidently a chain here, then continued to Zichron Yaakov, a quaint nearby town, and wandered a bit. Eventually the Israeli contingent caught up and we split into four teams to do escape rooms, which are even more popular in Israel than in the States. I would be remiss if I failed to note that my team won by a rather significant margin despite being shorthanded with one fewer player than the other teams or that in the wake of the victory I made my single most clever Facebook post to date, a play on the words of “Zavav,” a popular single by the Israeli duo Static and Ben El Tavori.
While most of the Americans boarded flights back West this evening, I decided to spend a few more weeks in Tel Aviv. Despite the exceptionally busy schedule at the Technion, which is currently in the midst of its spring semester, those of us who remain have open offers at the homes not only of students whom we know but their parents whom we do not. We were given a stern warning, though: If we do stay with anybody’s parents we can expect to gain at least two kilos by the week’s end.
Even those currently flying high above the Atlantic with have such opportunities soon enough, when we again meet as a group but this time in Boston at the end of October. And so I’m confident that today marks not an end but the beginning of meaningful relationships and dialogues for years to come.
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