Even after years of volunteer work, completing a service program in Israel was a life-changing, eye-opening experience for Seattle native Shoshana Wineburg.
By Rachel Olstein Kaplan
Shoshana Wineburg always resisted her mother’s requests to help with the gardening. Yet now, at 25, the Phinney Ridge native and inveterate traveler and volunteer is eager to plant seeds — both literally and figuratively — that will blossom into brighter futures for the communities she works with.
Shoshana spent last year in Israel volunteering with the Yahel Israel Service Learning program
, where she helped build community, teach English and plant urban gardens among the concrete housing units in the Shapira neighborhood of Gedera. Yahel sends young people to volunteer and live alongside with the Ethiopian-Israeli community in Israel on long-term, summer and alternative break programs.
“I grew up in a household with a lot of emphasis on education, on service and helping people,” Shoshana said. “The main thing in our house was to be a good person.” Her father is a professor of educational psychology at Stanford and her mother is a social worker. Shoshana sees herself as a product of her upbringing.
But it wasn’t until she spent nine months volunteering with Yahel, living and working within a largely Ethiopian community, that Shoshana really began to think about how to do service effectively. “Yahel was particularly eye-opening for me. I had been involved with volunteer work my entire life, and I considered myself critical and analytical. But I had never asked if my actions were perpetuating dependency.”
Shoshana feels that Yahel is different from other volunteer programs because they worked hand in hand with grassroots organizations. “The number-one most important thing is collaboration. We were working in collaboration with Friends By Nature, an organization that was already part of the community. We weren’t coming in and telling them what to do. It was bottom-up, not top-down. Even though we were outsiders, we were paired with people who were insiders.” Inspired by this community-based approach to development, Shoshana is considering applying for a master’s in Community and International Development at McGill University in the future.
With Yahel, Shoshana volunteered in the local community center, teaching English to adults and teens and tutoring for the Shiurei Bayit b’Bayit (Homework at Home) program. Working in partnership with Friends by Nature, Shoshana and the other participants on Yahel helped build community gardens between the concrete housing projects that make up the neighborhood. “We set up gardens where they would grow veggies and Ethiopian herbs and teff — a grain used to make the flour for injera, the traditional Ethiopian bread.”