After graduating from college, I wanted to take at least one year off before deciding on a career. I wanted to experience something new and different and also wished to be of service and give back. I looked into programs from Africa to India, when I came across something that stood out. But, it was located in Israel. To me, Israel meant Zionist Judaism.
Estee Gabel is an Israel Teaching Fellow at the Ben Gurion Elementary school in Rehovot, Israel. Ma’ase Olam’s Israel Teaching Fellows is a joint 10-month service-learning program for college graduates and Israelis ages 21-30 where fellows volunteer as English teachers’ aides in an elementary or middle school in Rehovot. Estee works with 3rd-6th graders, helping to make English interesting, and exposing the students to a native speaker.
Originally from Rockville Centre, NY, Estee graduated The George Washington University with majors in International Affairs and Philosophy. “After I graduated, I knew I wanted to be in Israel, and I wanted a structured program. I started looking into different volunteer opportunities, and when I found Ma’a’se Olam, it seemed right.”
“With Ma’ase Olam’s Israel Teaching Fellows, we work with English classes and take students out in small groups to help advance their language skills.” Estee spends her days working with small groups of students, or tutoring in one-on-one sessions. She makes flashcards with 3rd graders who are learning the alphabet and helps students with exercises in their workbooks. Each month, she tries to teach her students about a different holiday or aspect of American culture. For Thanksgiving, she created a gratitude board, where each student wrote one thing they were grateful for. “I’m super happy at this school. Everyone is really friendly. I have no complaints.”
After volunteering for almost three months, Estee is already seeing a difference in her students: “I have one student in 5th grade that can’t match the sounds to the letters. At the beginning, it was such a task for her to come meet with me. Now, she speaks a few words in English, and when she sees me at school, she’s excited to come work with me. Seeing her more enthusiastic about learning English is a success. Now, I’m trying to find more hours in the week to work with her.”
The students aren’t the only ones excited to see her in school. Tami, the head English teacher at Ben Gurion, described the many issues she often struggles with in the classroom. Her students’ English knowledge can range dramatically, so much so that she needs to use three separate textbooks in one class, each at a different level. Having Israel Teaching Fellows in her school makes a huge difference. The fellows can work with the advanced students, or the students who need extra help. This leaves Tami free to adjust the level of her teaching so that it suits the needs of her students. “We’re so lucky to have them!” exclaimed Tami.
With Ma’ase Olam, fellows aren’t just teaching, they’re also learning about and engaging with social issues in Israel. Estee described these activities as ”cultural and social justice program components.” These aspects include volunteering alongside and learning with Israelis the same age as the fellows, so that they truly get to know what Israel is like from an insider’s perspective.
Estee is having a great time in Israel. “I came in not knowing what to expect, and I’ve been constantly pleased with everything. Having the Ma’ase components are only enhancing the experience. It’s definitely a year that I’ll remember forever.”