I came to Israel for the first time in the summer of 2011 after graduating from college, and in those 10 short days I discovered that I felt a sense of belonging here and a lot of gratitude towards Israelis for maintaining the only Jewish state in the world. Because of that connection, I decided to return as an Israel Teaching Fellow only two months later to give something back to this country. After spending 7 months here, I can say that, like many worthwhile experiences, it has not been without its challenges, but the experience has been an incredible opportunity to make a difference and to develop a deeper understanding of the complex society that is Israel.
Working as an English tutor in a religious girls elementary school in Ramla-Lod, I feel that I do very meaningful, valuable work. In general, I teach two students at a time from grades 3 through 6. I think that my work with the students has been beneficial for many reasons, but especially because I provide individualized attention to problem areas that might otherwise go unnoticed in a large classroom. English is very important for Israeli students because many programs in Higher Education and jobs are accessible only to those who have a high level of English; English is also needed to connect with the rest of the world since Israel is the only country where Hebrew is spoken. For these reasons, the Israel Teaching Fellows program and the work that I do address an important need.
I live in Ramla-Lod, a disadvantaged area 25 minutes southeast of Tel Aviv, and I am really glad to be here. In addition to its great location right between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, living and volunteering in Ramla-Lod has a lot of advantages. It is a diverse area with a good mix of Arabs and Jews from different backgrounds, so by speaking with neighbors I have access to diverse viewpoints on what it means to be Israeli. Although residents of Ramla-Lod come from many places, there is not nearly as much English spoken here as in a large city like Tel Aviv, so I have excellent opportunities to practice Hebrew with fellow residents, who are generally very patient and welcoming, and to contribute something to the city.
I have also seen other parts of Israel both on trips organized as part of my program and on my own; I recently attended a Masa Israel Community Shabaton in Arad, near the Dead Sea. I was able to spend the weekend with Jewish peers from Israel and from all over the world. We shared our different experiences in regard to the challenges facing the Jewish people and simply had a great time together! Closer to home, I love spending time at the beach, at a café in Tel Aviv, or attending a lecture on middle eastern geopolitics at Tel Aviv University. Although I will be returning to the U.S. in a couple of months, I am very grateful that I have had this opportunity to live and complete this Fellowship in Israel, and I would encourage anyone who is thinking about coming on a similar program to take the plunge and sign up. You will be glad you did!