I came here with Taglit-Birthright, which is a free 10-day program for Jewish youth to come to Israel and tour around the country.
I've now been living in Tel Aviv for 6 months, doing a program call Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, which means "repair the world" in Hebrew. I am living in a house with 7 other people: 4 Americans (2 New York, 1 Missouri (me), 1 Alabama), 1 Hungarian, 1 Israeli, 1 Brit, and 1 Danish guy whom I happily room with.
The program that I am doing consists of a combination of volunteering and learning about Judaism, Israel and its people. I spend 3 days a week volunteering at 5 different places, ranging from a daycare for babies of immigrant workers to a tandem bicycling program with disabled kids. I haven't officially started every program, but the ones I've done so far have been really challenging and fun.
The other two days are study days. There we spend the morning in classes learning to speak Hebrew, the official language of Israel. My Hebrew now is actually pretty good considering I've been here for such a short time. The toughest part of Hebrew is that the alphabet is completely new, so I don't have an easy way to conceptualize the words and commit them to memory. Spanish, my second language, at least uses the same set of letters so I can relate to it… no luck with Hebrew. It has been fun though. I remember vividly after our first lesson walking outside and realizing that what had been registering as pretty decorations were actually words!!
After our Hebrew lessons we have two 1.5 hour classes each about Israeli culture, politics, and people. These are TREMENDOUSLY interesting. I realize now that I do not have much idea about Middle Eastern or Jewish culture or history. After each lesson I've honestly felt like I'd just gone through a "Matrix-like" download of information. On the whole the education that we are getting, and the organization that our program
is inside, is pretty left. I had the feeling and it has been confirmed by the Israelis who are in the program with us, almost all of whom have recently finished their military service. They tend to get a little defensive when hearing criticisms of Israel, which is something I can definitely relate to as an American living abroad. In the end it seems that they are focusing on the humanitarian side of everything which I'd like to believe is where politics ends, so I'm cool with it.
Finally, as part of the program we do trips each month around Israel. Last week we went to different Bedouin villages in the south in the Negev Desert. Though Bedouins have been a nomadic people for thousands of years (literally camels in tents) they are now having to cope with a modernizing country. Their seemingly antiquated ways combined with being Arab in a Jewish state has made their lives extremely difficult. I think these trips will be a big time highlight.
Other than all the programming, Tel Aviv is a big city where everything is pretty close together… and it's located on a beach. Now that I have a bike it has opened up to me and I have been enjoying living here so much.