Thursday, November 19, 2009

Volunteering with the kiddies

Pretty cute, ay? These are some of the kids I get to play with at the other absorption center in Ashkelon. I realized you all might be wondering what it is I do all day long here, especially now that it's too cold to go to the beach (poor me, I know). So now that our time in Ashkelon is coming to a close, I figured it would be a good idea to post a bit about my daily life.

We have Ulpan (Hebrew classes) four days a week from 8:15am-12:30pm, with a half-hour break at 10. It's pretty convenient that we have our class on the ground floor of our absorption center, so we can head down in our PJs and then come back up to our rooms during the break. During Ulpan, we do different things - we talk about the news and current events here in Israel, so as you can imagine, there's always plenty to talk about. We also read little stories and articles and learn plenty of new vocab along the way. And then about twice a month, we watch an Israeli movie - some of them I've seen, some are new. But even the ones I've already seen, I try to watch without looking at the English subtitles.

We also volunteer a couple of times a week - there are all sorts of different things people are doing. Some are helping with sailing lessons at the marina, some are teaching English, some working at Netzach Yisrael, the conservative synagogue. I've been volunteering twice a week at the bigger of the two absorption centers in Ashkelon, called Beit Canada/Canada House, and it predominantly houses olim chadashim (new immigrants) from Ethiopia. It really wasn't my intention to have this to be my volunteer placement, but Otzma sent me and a couple of other people there our first week and I took one look at the kids and couldn't say no. They're all so adorable and they all speak Hebrew too which is the coolest thing ever! So I've been working in the "gan", which is for 4-5 year olds.

The kids all go to regular school with other Israelis during the day, and then around 3:30pm, they come to the gan for an after-school program while their parents are still at work. They play outside, draw, practice writing letters and numbers, and if they behave, they watch some childrens' TV shows. One of their favorite things to do when I'm around is have me pick them up and run with them in my arms or on my shoulders.

These families come from different areas of Ethiopia - their ancestors were all Jewish, and somewhere along the way, they were forced to convert to Christianity. But they go through a conversion process when they arrive and are now Jewish according to halacha . On average, the families live in the absorption center for 2-3 years while they get settled to their new lives. Their native language is Amheric, so the parents take Ulpan classes to learn Hebrew and they also have jobs. As part of the process to integrate olim chadashim into Israel, the government then gives these families some money towards an apartment of their own in smaller cities.

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