Thursday, October 1, 2015

Getting to Know Lod

As the title of this post suggests, this week has been mainly about getting to know Lod and getting introduced to my Ulpan (Hebrew course). I got to visit many organizations in Lod such as schools and community centers that provide vital services to Jewish and Arab residents, and I started to got a good idea of what I want to do for my volunteer placements.

One organization that really attracted me was the Lod Young Adults Center, or Merkaz Tzeyirim. This organization provides a gateway for the many students living in Lod to be engaged in social activities and volunteer work. There are about 300 Jewish and Arab students from all over Israel who live in Lod because of its central location in the country and affordable price of living. I was able to meet some of these students twice this week, including once at the opening event of the Lod Student Village's bar. These students are all around my age and I loved being able to relate to them and talk to them about their interests and backgrounds. As a volunteer at the Young Adults Center, I would be able to continue to engage with these young Israeli students and assist with the logistics of student activities within Lod.

At the Lod Young Adults Center with Lior the director

Volunteering with Lod students

At the Student Village bar with Linoy, our awesome Local Coordinator
Another organization that really interested me was the Chicago Community Center, which is situated in a mostly Arab neighborhood called Ramat Eshkol next to Lod's Old City. This community center is a service for kids from different backgrounds to participate in after-school activities. Because the community center caters to Jews, Arabs, and Ethiopians within Lod, it is very multicultural and it has actually been a central location for Lod's residents to discuss the issues that have concerned them. Each of these groups has its own floor of the center, so the building is not completely mixed, but it still plays a major role in making kids interact with others from different backgrounds. It also keeps these kids away from crime and conflict by occupying their time and engaging them in healthy, educational manners. I have been thinking a lot about the possibility of working here for one of my volunteer placements. I love working with kids, and I thought of incorporating my love of singing and initiating a fun music program that the kids could enjoy.

Lastly, one of my favorite places we visited was an Arab elementary school called Elrashidiya that was also near the Old City. From the moment I entered the school grounds, I knew this was a place I would love to volunteer at. There were immediately adorable Arab kids running up to me with big smiles, wanting me to high-five them and shake their hands. We also were able to learn some very interesting facts there about the Israeli Arab community in regard to education. For instance, we learned that only 13% of Israeli Arabs go to university, and most of those who do study nursing and education because those are the most easy jobs to get in Arab communities. It was also interesting to learn that Arabs face many barriers to acceptance to university, including the Western culture-biased psychometric test, which is the Israeli equivalent of the SAT, and the delegitimization Arabs face on university campuses toward their holiday observances and student organizations. It was really fascinating for me to learn more what it is like to be an Arab in Israeli society, and this reminded me why I chose to come to Lod and participate in Yahel. I am excited to have more learning opportunities about the Israeli Arab community, and I think volunteering in an Arab school would allow me to gain some very insightful experiences.

At the Arab elementary school with Rana, who coordinates an Arab student project in Lod
Of course, I am also gaining much insight by having fun experiences at different spots in Israel. For instance, yesterday I went to IKEA in Rishon L'Zion with most of the other Yahel participants. It was a lot of fun to experience this massive store as a group and share our excitement. It was my first time in an IKEA store and I definitely will not forget it. The one downside was it was very hard to get a taxi back to Lod from there, but I was able to ask for help and coordinate my way home using ONLY Hebrew, which was a major accomplishment!

This weekend, all the Yahel participants from both Lod and Rishon are staying in Tel Aviv for a fun time of relaxing, hanging out at the beach, shopping, and going to bars and restaurants. We are also going to go to Jerusalem together for Simchat Torah on Sunday-Monday, and we are hoping to go to a service at the Kotel (Western Wall). I am very excited to spend more leisure time with these amazing people and revisit some of my old stomping grounds in Jerusalem, a city I hold very dear. My next post will hopefully have enjoyable details about this trip.

Until next time, l'hitraot!

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