By Rachel Zieleniec, Yahel Social Change Program
I can’t believe it has been two months since my last post! It’s been way too long. There have been countless moments where I’ve said “I need to put this in my blog…” Well, those moments added up,and I didn’t keep up like I should have. But, as I start a new adventure this coming week, I hope to be able to keep up a bit more. Thank you for asking and wondering as to where this post has been – it means a lot and I’m grateful to have such loyal followers. On that note, I am going to flood this post with a few pictures from the past two months – I once heard that they sometimes speak louder than words…
So much has happened since I last wrote that even if I try to put it down in words, it wouldn’t do it justice. Given that, I have decided to use this blog post as a final recap of the first part of my Yahel journey.
When I decided to do this program about seven months ago, I really had no idea what community empowerment work was, what it looked like or how I was to fit into it all. Five months ago at the start of the program, I could have never imagined being in the place that I am today.
“What have you learned from this experience?” “What has made it so unique?” “What are you walking away with?” When I am asked these questions, it seems I have a million answers to each.
The Yahel Social Change Program has challenged me, while also providing me with a strong and supportive platform to grow as a person. Immersing myself in an Ethiopian community has helped me gain insight into the many facets of veteran and immigrant Israeli life, as well as begin to understand all of its complexities. The best part of this experience has been living and learning social change. I have learned a great deal about what it is to create social change and what it is to work toward truly empowering a community – it has been humbling to learn and decipher the stark difference between merely giving and truly empowering.
Before moving to Gedera, I was unaware how possible it was to truly affect change in a community in which I was unfamiliar with, uncomfortable in and disconnected to. After being immersed in the Ethiopian community here, I’ve come to realize that deep understanding of a community comes with building strong relationships, building trust and accurately accessing the community’s needs in order to create the greatest change.
These past five months have flown by before my eyes. Gedera has become my second home away from home in my life (thank you, OU). So much so, that I decided not to leave anytime soon…
That being said, I’ve decided to stay on with Yahel for a second part of the program. Due to the strong interest of the first cohort of Yahelnikim to stay in Gedera and keep working with Yahel and FBN, the directors thought up a “Yahel Fellowship” part 2 to enable us to stay “home.” The five out six of us who are staying in Gedera (talk about a successful first cohort!) are taking on internships around the country, some in Ethiopian organizations and others in education and community work. After completing the intensive and immersive first part of the program, it seems we all feel more comfortable and more equipped to make contributions outside of just the Gedera community.
For the next step, I am dedicating my time to working with Yahel – building, creating and implementing a sustainable recruitment and marketing program. Thinking of ways to translate my experience into a tangible product in order to entice and encourage people to join the program has proven to be a bit difficult. Yahel is such an incredible and unique program – and if you can’t tell, I am its biggest fan! So I am grateful to spend my time working in this capacity.
These may seem like just “buzz” words – and truthfully, five months ago they were just “buzz” words for me. But, these words, the words that the Yahel Social Change Program sits on, have become a part of my character over these past five months.
Our group has talked a lot about this process that we have all gone through – the process of recognizing how we don’t think of these words as foreign or intangible anymore, but rather as part of the fabric of our every day lives. Cross cultural exchanges happen every single day. Empowerment comes alive without even realizing it. We collaborate with one another, with FBN and with the community on a daily basis. The list goes on.
But what is so special about this process is that it not only has become a part of our every day lives here in Gedera, but that we have the ability to dig deeper to see how it will translate to our daily lives following the program. I’ve been thinking about this process a lot and making a conscious effort to be sure the transition is successful. It seems to me that weaving this fabric into our post-Yahel lives will be a sure product of the success of this program.
We are getting ready to welcome three new people to the Yahel house tomorrow. These three people are going to be beginning the Yahel Social Change Program that we started five months ago. The eight of us are all living in the house together – Real World: Gedera Style, cont.? I am really looking forward to meeting them tomorrow.
Although the “Yahel Fellowship” will be much more independent than part one, the five of us from the first cohort are still keeping all of our volunteer work with FBN. We are continuing with our Ulpan Hebrew studies, and have the ability to go to any and all speakers, events, trips that the new group will be doing. The Yahel family is expanding – and I don’t think I can think of anything better.
I want to thank Dana, Avi, Rachel, my five wonderful yahelnikim (Shoshana, Jacob, Drew, Matt and Annie), Friends by Nature and the Gedera/Shapira community for making these past five months unforgettable. Now, onto the next!
Originally posted on Rachel’s blog, a cause to travel.