By Panni, Masa Tlalim Israel Corps Volunteer

My name is Panni, and I’m 23 years old from Budapest, Hungary. 6 months ago I decided to come to Israel for a Masa Israel program, and now I’m actually here! The project I chose is Masa Tlalim Israel Corps at Kibbutz Harduf, located in the North of Israel. It is part of the Jewish Agency’s “Project TEN: Global Tikkun Olam” initiative. The program’s focus on coexistence and ecological farming really spoke to my interests. They address the Israeli-Palestinian issue from unique angle, focusing on making peace and living together. Also, the program is quite affordable and fits my budget.

Kibbutz Harduf is not a traditional one. It runs according to Anthroposophy-a philosophical idea developed by Rudolph Steiner which focuses on development of imagination, inspiration and intuition through direct experience and inner development. The place where we stay is part of the kibbutz, but it’s also a separate area, called Sha’ar La’Adam, an educational and enviromental center.  Most of the residents of the Kibbutz are Israeli and have been very friendly to us. I meet new people every day when we’re volunteering and twice a week there is also a kibbutz pub. The forest of Sha’ar La’adam also gives home to other people who live in tents, they help buliding the community center of Sha’ar La’adam and study in the kibbutz.

I really fell in love with this place in no time. In the beginning many joked that this is a “magical forest”, but the more I explore the more I see it’s very true. Naturally, it takes time to get used to something so new. We essentially live in the forest, which is something I’m not very used to, but I enjoy it more than I could imagine. Everything here is very nature-based. We live together in small bungalows right next to the woods. Our living room is outside and even the toilets are ecological.

I am also really lucky with our group; we have quickly become good friends, even though we’re all very different, we get along well.  Most of the volunteer group is from the United States, but 3 of us are from Europe. Apart from me, there is a girl from France and a guy from Germany. I really enjoy hearing about their life experiences in their home countries and sharing mine.

One really special experience I’ve had so far in Israel is celebrating the High Holidays for essentially the first time in my life. Here I really learned what they mean and felt their importance-something which cannot be felt the same way anywhere else in the world. Thanks to the Israelis and our Ulpan I’m also learning basic Hebrew. I have to admit that I wasn’t sure our volunteer in Israel experience would be taken seriously, but it has turned out to be very fulfilling. We teach English to kids at beduin schools in the villages close by, we work at the farm of Gan HaBayit, and we also work with adults with special needs in the kibbutz.  Apart from the volunteering we also help in the community center,  we have Arabic classes, meaningful workshops about co-existence, and even theater classes, in which we will prepare a play for the students of the schools we teach in. Every day and every experience I’m having makes me love it here more and more. I can’t believe more than a month has already gone by, and I’m really looking forward to see what else this magic forest has in store for me.

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