Dana Bornstein

I’ve become a Big Sister.
I’m volunteering at a Kfar Yeladim, or children’s village, in Karmiel, a small city in the Galilee.
What brought me here is Masa Israel’s Nativ, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s college leadership gap-year program. I began my nine months in Israel studying at Hebrew University. Then I was sent to Karmiel because of my experience working with disadvantaged youth.
Founded more than 30 years ago, the Kfar Yeladim is a large gated community of 17 houses, each home to 11 children from broken families. Some of these kids know no other home than this village.
Living in each of these homes are a “housemother” and “housefather”; nearly all of them have their own children, whom they are also raising in the village. Other than its own schools, the village has everything the families could possibly need: a grocery store, computer rooms, sports fields, music rooms, homework tutors, psychologists, playgrounds, and even buses to take the children around Karmiel. 
I work with house parents who have lived in the village for 12 years and raised their own three children there. They are paid next to nothing. They rely on secondhand clothes, grocery store money points, donations from others and whatever they can earn from odd jobs. But despite their hardships, the Kfar families have come to cherish the simple gifts that life has to offer.
While my house parents speak English, the children – who range in age from 7 to 16 – hardly speak a word of it. But the language barrier has given me the opportunity to connect with them on so many other levels: through computer games, English homework tutoring, soccer, playground games, TV programs and even cooking. Though they don’t always need my help, the kids make sure to include me in their everyday lives. 
Seeing smiles on the kids’ faces when I come over to spend time with them and getting a hug on Thursday before I leave for the weekend make me so thankful that I’ve decided to take a gap year in Israel.