Every day, while living and volunteering here in Southern Tel Aviv, I learn more about the challenging realities around me. I am encouraged to reflect upon them through different perspectives, forced to question the narratives I brought with me, and pressed to reexamine my own place and identity in all of my class discussions and on the many trips we make around Israel with the Mechina or Tikkun Olam (BINA’s international post-graduate program).
My days are packed, and predictably so, as BINA’s goal is to bind closely a comprehensive text-based Jewish study of social justice and long term meaningful social action projects. Not to mention, being in Tel Aviv means there are always lots of exciting things to do outside of the program; protests, city events, clubs, cafes, concerts and the beach are all part of living here. More than my full schedule, though, which continues to excite me as it offers so much variation in activities, it is the challenging content of my days that regularly forces me to pause and realize how fulfilling and formative this program truly is.
This morning, for example, I taught and tutored sixth graders in math and English at the Bialik School—subject of the Oscar winning documentary “Strangers No More”. Many of my students are the children of Tel Aviv’s refugees and foreign workers, yet here at Bialik, the local public school, they meet some of the best and most dedicated teachers in the state. I love the kids I work with (and surprisingly, I love teaching math!) but at the same time, I am unable to ignore some of the larger political and religious conflicts that surround them. BINA’s curriculum includes hearing from speakers and politicians who are not welcome to the presence of my kids in Israel. Even the seniors in the neighborhood, who I visit twice a week to hear their life stories and play bingo, tell me that the non-Jewish foreigners who have moved in from Africa, East Asia, and the Philippines should not be treated too well here in Israel as they threaten the survival of the Jewish State.
I feel more torn then ever about this issue, as I do about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which we have begun to study more in-depth on trips to Arab and Jewish cities on both sides of the Green Line. I feel just as torn when discussing the correct place of pluralism in Israel, or the correct statuses of tradition, liberalism, Jewish solidarity, and universal equality in the policies of this county as well as in my own life… but feeling torn is perhaps exactly where I should be at the moment; perhaps it means that I am truly being pushed to think deeply and with a critical and self-conscious mind. Nowhere else have I felt pushed to enter such difficult dialogue with the goal of such thorough self-reflection.
BINA is definitely not the place for an easy plug-in-and-enjoy Israel experience, but that’s not to say that I haven’t been having lots and lots of fun! Living in Tel Aviv and getting to know the Israelis in the Mechina, the participants of the Tikkun Olam program (and of course the other “gappim”) means there are always lots of adventures to be had. Exploring the city together with them and on my own is defiantly one of my favorite things about being here.
As I watch the sky darken and the sunlight fade quickly from the windows of our apartment, I remember how as a senior in high school my mind would so often wander off into the future wondering how I would spend my first year away from home. I had no idea last winter that I would be sitting here just one year later, learning, growing, and most importantly challenging myself in ways I’m sure I won’t fully understand for a very long time to come.