Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : February 18, 2013

As part of my volunteering with Masa Israel's Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa program, I work with a unique organization called Brit Olam, which provides support to pregnant African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv through the Hagar and Miriam project.


Most of the women that seek assistance from Hagar and Miriam are young (in their early 20's), from Eritrea, and first-time mothers without their own mothers or other female role models to support them.


As a volunteer, I am helping with three main tasks: grant-writing, weekly intakes, and post-birth visits to check on the well-being of the new mothers and their babies.

A few days ago I did my first post-birth checkup with a client from Hagar and Miriam. Her name is Tsega and she's from Eritrea.
She speaks a little English, a little Hebrew, but not so much in either language that she feels very comfortable going to doctors and navigating the healthcare system on her own.
Her baby Asema (a girl who was born prematurely, but has enormous brown eyes and is simply beautiful) needs surgery, so there's a lot she has to do.
I went with her to a clinic to get all the right referrals, get a basic checkup for the baby, and generally make her feel like she's not alone.
I was extremely nervous because I had no training for this whatsoever, but it went pretty well. 
A lot of it is just repeating things for her to calm her down, write them down in a simpler way, and make her feel like we'll be capable of getting things done.
For my part in dealing with the Israelis who run these kinds of offices, the best thing is just to pretend that I know exactly what I'm doing.
It makes everyone feel better, and it works out in terms of getting the information we need. If they think I know what I'm doing, they'll also be nicer to us. Fake it till you make it.
After Tsega and I left the clinic, she insisted that I go over to her house for lunch. I tried a few times to resist, but her response each time was “Ok! But come over.”
Her neighborhood and house were pretty run down; she lives in an area of South Tel Aviv where a lot of asylum seekers live.
As far as I can tell, Eritreans are very warm and kind (and not just to guests). They seem to be very sweet to each other, very friendly, and happier than I imagine I would be after going through what they've gone through.
When Tsega brought me to her home, she introduced me to a lot of people who were thrilled to meet me, excited to practice English, shook my hand a million times, and thanked me for helping her.
Her husband gave me a soda from the store he works at and made us “Taita,” a spongy pita with meat and spices inside. It was absolutely delicious.
Tsega and I chatted, she teased me about my paltry appetite and showed me pictures from her wedding.
The experience was tough and confusing at times, both for me and for Tsega, but it felt great being able to help her and being able to see how much she appreciated it. I can't wait to visit her again!


Originally posted on the Tikkun Olam blog.

Published : February 15, 2013
By Felix Markman, Maslul Ishi
Shimon the barber is bald; he is a man with no hair style. But he’s a good hair stylist – always there are women at his salon. He’s the real life Zohan, except he’s unpretentious and humble. Shimi v’Ronit, as his salon is called is always full of people; they come and go and everybody in the neighborhood seems to know him. 
Shimi v’Ronit is right outside Beit Milman, where I live. It’s one of three hair salons at the neighborhood mall. The first time I came in for a haircut, I approached the Russian looking lady, and politely asked her if she does haircuts. No, she said and pointed to Shimon. Frivolously repeating the word Mahar (tomorrow) and pointing to my hair while saying haircut, Shimon understood that I don’t speak Hebrew. So he responded in English. Yes, come in tomorrow he said. It was nighttime and there was no time for me today. 
Shimon possesses a quintessentially Israeli tan: dark, from decades of under the Israeli sun; his tan is like that of an Arab. Now, Shimon provides exceptional customer service; this is expressed not with a fraudulent businessman smile, but through sharing his genuine opinion – an insistence to do the haircut his way. So when I came in on Friday morning requesting a 5 buzz cut on the sides and a 6 buzz on top, he said “No, that is not good for you,” in quintessential Israeli accent. This was the first time I came in for a haircut, yet he was supremely confident to dictate the matters of my haircut his way. That’s Israeli customer service. In USA, no barber would ever insist on challenging a customer’s request at first sight. 
And so, in no position to argue or wriggle out of the chair, I said okay, beseder. Shimon proceeded to attentively and fastidiously perform what he considered the proper haircut for me – as if it were a matter of fact and not of opinion. I made some small talk, keeping it simple because Shimon’s English was simple. I learned that he was born in Jaffa, and that he opened this joint 26 years ago. He learned that I leave in the end of December and that I study Engineering. 
When it was all said and done, I liked what the man did. He knows his hair styling. He kept my hair a tad longer than I typically request on the top, and neatly groomed my temples and neck. I paid him 70 Shekels and said thank you and goodbye – in a genuine manner. His manner was even more genuine; his face read a look of sincere respect and appreciation, as though we were equals, as though it was he who benefitted and not I. 
Five or Six weeks later, I decided I wanted another haircut; I hate long hair, it’s a nuisance. I like to keep things simple; the plan was to come in at night and make another appointment for the next day, and to get the same haircut. I walked out of Beit Milman with no cash, no cell phone, but with a soccer ball. I wanted to get some fresh air and volley the ball that brisk, crispy December night. I see Shimon, I enter the premises, I humbly sit down, waiting for him to finish his phone call to ask him for an appointment for tomorrow. I flip through a magazine, the cover of which was a young and handsome, effeminate man - almost naked. I couldn’t decide if it was a male or female targeted magazine (it was in Hebrew). 
Shimon finishes talking on his iPhone, and I ask him about tomorrow. He passes it through his mind and gestures to one of the seats. “I won’t be here tomorrow, come sit down.” “But I don’t have any money with me, let me go get it.” “No,” he waves it off, don’t worry about it. Shimon has the power of compelling people, in a kind rather than overbearing way. He approaches all customers as family – this is his Israeli way. I sit down, he does the haircut. It was déjà vu, he does a good job. He then offers to shampoo my hair; in the US, this always costs more money, but I let it slide despite being the cheap Jew that I am. He then diligently shampoos and washes my hair. When I get up, I immediately offer to get my cash. I ask kama ze oleh, meaning how much, and he again dismisses the question of payment, as if were of no importance at all.  “You’re not flying tomorrow, no?” he asks. “No,” I respond with a smile. He offers me a handshake, I raise my hand and look him in the eye and graciously say toda roba, he looks me squarely in the eye and in the tone and manner of a brother says, toda roba leha, knowing very well that I’ll find him and pay him for the haircut another day. And that is Israeli customer service. It was all a matter of trust.

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