Discovering Haifa's Beauty, Diversity and Genuine Coexistence

By Billie Hirsch, OTZMA 
 
Shalom from Haifa! My name is Billie Hirsch, and I am a participant of OTZMA, a ten-month leadership development and volunteer-oriented program sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America as well as CJP.
 
Since late August of last year, I have been awarded the bragging rights of calling Israel my current home. Although I can never expunge or replace the memories of my past four years of living the student life in Boston, I am absolutely loving life here and taking full advantage of everything this country and this city have to offer.
 
While being in Israel, the experiences I devote myself to being exposed to on a daily basis and the skills and talents I work to continuously develop are ones that I eagerly anticipate bringing home with me to Boston proper in July, when my program concludes.
 
It is a gross understatement to say I am simply excited to be volunteering and living here in Haifa, Israel; rather I feel beyond honored to have been afforded this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give back in Israel and to truly learn of this country’s culture, history and politics. I am overall flattered to be representing the Jewish and youth community of Boston. I wake every morning to the sight of the Carmel Mountain, blessed to be residing in such a gorgeous city. Of course, the 65-degree weather in early February doesn’t hurt.
 
OTZMA has been in Haifa for exactly one month now, and the past few weeks have given us some time to settle in and explore, growing comfortable with our apartment and learning lots about the Haifa-Boston Connection. Staff and volunteer of the Haifa-Boston Connection, as well as the Young Leadership Committee, a brilliant initiative of the HBC, have been more than generous and helpful in our getting acclimated. They have invited us to movie nights, seminars, had us all over their house for the most impressive Israeli breakfast I’ve ever been lucky enough to indulge upon, and been there for us when we had concerns or questions—or just wanted someone to chat with!
 
Lots of my upcoming posts will most likely be about the HBC and the YLD, and all of the truly fabulous work they do to not only keep Haifa interesting, but to foster and strengthen the tie between the Jewish community in Haifa and in Boston.
 
There are five of us living in the downtown (“ir tachtit”) area, right by the Haifa Port, while the rest of us are sprinkled across the country, other participants’ homes dependent on their partnership cities. The cast of Haifa OTZMAnikim is truly a group needing some serious story telling, which is why I’m here.
 
Perry and Jacob live across the hall in student dorming, while Gaby, Sarah and I share a similar looking flat. We live in a building with other people from all corners of the world, and many funky restaurants, bars, and open markets are barely a walk away. Everything about our living situation in Haifa is fantastic, and I couldn’t have asked to live with better girls.
 
We all work in various arenas, volunteering with local and immigrant populations. Between the five of us, our volunteer sites are as follows: Beit Sefer Chofit Elementary School, Wizo Arts High School, City of Haifa Sports Department, Haifa Young Adult’s Center, Rambam Hospital, Hillel, Haifa-Boston Connection, Beit HaGefen, Bosmat High School, a center for the elderly, and a women’s shelter.
 
 

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