By Nikki Avershal, OTZMA, Philadelphia, PA
OTZMA is more than Americans volunteering in Israel. More than the educational opportunities presented by intensive Hebrew classes and new cultural immersion, OTZMA staff organizes weekly educational days for participants.
In these short but intensive one-day trips around the country OTZMA participants (cleverly nicknamed OTZMAnikim) jump from place to place, lecture to lecture absorbing an unbelievable amount of information.
Our first education day was spent in the South of Israel in the Negev desert. We began in Be’er Sheva, the largest city in the Negev with an introduction by to the region by LeePerlman,the Director of Programming and Planning for the Israel and Overseas Global Operations of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). He asked that during our activities and visits throughout the day that we look at the Negev through the following eight prisms:
Be’er Sheva- Kehillat Kama and Shachaf Organization: PLANNING – PEOPLE -PIONEERING
Kehillat Kama is made up of about 20 young adults who moved to the Dalet neighborhood in Be’er Sheva 6 years ago to help the neighborhood out of its long-term depression. “We did not come to fix, but to empower. We don’t really believe in volunteering”, shared Nomi, our guide. Their commitment to continuous growth in the region is such that they themselves want to grow and learn in the community center they renovate and want to raise their own children in the schools they build. The group is based on socialist and collectivist ideals that once upon a time made the Kibbutz movement so strong in Israel.
In addition we ate at a local cafe that employs young Israelis with the understanding that the students go to school, finish their work and are successful in their studies before they can begin earn money.
Segev Shalom: PERIPHERY – POLICY
Our second site visit was to the elementary school in Segev Shalom, a small Bedouin community in the Negev. The village has a population of around 6,000 people and although the Bedouins are traditionally a nomadic community, many modern Bedouins do live in permanent villages and settlements. The school for both boys and girls is an experimental school for the sciences with 650 students from both Segev Shalom and outlying Bedouin settlements.
While classes are taught in Arabic, and Islam is taught in school, Hebrew and English are both taught as second and third languages. We spoke to Abdullah, one of the administrators at the school about the difficulties Bedouins face in assimilating to a more Westernized society. Currently in the Negev there are 7 recognized villages like Segev Shalom and 50 unrecognized settlements.
We spent out lunch break in a beautiful park in the Negev town of Yerucham. As part of the Partnership 2000 initiative between the Jewish Agency for Israel, United Jewish Communities and Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal, Yerucham has a flourishing partnership with Miami, Florida. Every year thousands of people come to Yerucham, a development town in the Negev to assist the town through various community service projects.
Starting in November, OTZMA participants Shauna Gamsey (St. Augustine, Florida) and Lauren Hyman (Atlanta, Georgia) will be moving to Yerucham as part of OTZMAs Israel Teaching Corps
to teach for the majority of the school year in Yerucham schools.
S’de Boker: POLITICAL WILL
In the afternoon we visited the Kibbutz that was once the home of David Ben-Gurion, one of the most prolific men in Israeli history and Israels first Prime Minister. We learned about one of his extremely important initiatives, to settle the Negev, an area of Israel that makes up 60% of the land with only 10% of the countrys population.
We were really enraptured with the desert said Becca Feinstein (Long Island, NY), Ariel Kurland (East Bay, California) continued, Its amazing that a politician would move his life out of the center, where everything was happening, to live amongst the people who were doing what seemed impossible.
Naot Havat Bodedim: PERCEPTION
Our final stop was to Naot Havat Bodedim, the lone goat farm. We met the owners a couple with four children who with help from local workers run their own farm and produce, cheeses, milks and yogurt to sell throughout Israel. It showed us that people are making the move; special, inspired people are picking up their lives in the big cities and in the center of the country to settle the Desert.
Even if the process is slow, even if the process is difficult, Ben-Gurions dreams are becoming feasible realities.