Tuesday, January 12, 2010

All Sorts of Adventures

I got here just over a week ago, and already, I feel at home. All four of us are getting closer to finalizing our volunteering schedules, and we have a pretty cool range of activities. Brett and Joseph will be working in Akko every Monday because Akko is the partnership city for Texas, so they'll be able to get involved there and get to know a second city. Tom and Brett are helping to coach basketball with Maccabi Haifa's youth league, and all three of them will be volunteering at the zoo as well (clearly the zoo is not the spot for me). And I have my first day of teaching TV production tomorrow, so hopefully that goes well.

In addition to meeting the people we'll be volunteering with, we've had fabulous weather with which to go out and explore the city (and yes, as you can see from some of my pictures, go on an adventure to the Yam in January). Becca and I did quite a bit of walking the other day. There are 4 different walking trails that take you from the top of Haifa and the Carmel Mountain to the bottom of the city by steps (there are about 1000 steps on each trail). We figured it would be a great way to see different neighborhoods in the city and get some exercise at the same time. I knew where the trail began so I didn't bring my map of where the trail went...each of the paths is color coded so I figured it would be marked which way to go. Well, naturally after about 50 steps we lost the steps and just wound up making our own trail, which ended us being a good thing because we found both the Arab markets and the regular shuk, so we stopped off to get some good fruits and veggies, and continued our walk all the way down back to our place.

One of the great things about being here has been meeting the volunteers of the Young Leadership Division of the Haifa/Boston Connection. They've been a great welcoming committee, taking us out to some fun bars around town and even bringing us gift baskets full of food. Liel, a member of the YLD, works as a broadcaster and producer at Radio Haifa 107.5 FM and invited us to the station last night to watch her show. We hung out in the studio with her while she was on air from 10pm-midnight and she talked a bit about us during the program and let us each give a quick shoutout on the air. And as we found out during the middle of the show thanks to Tom Holtz, the entire show is broadcast via webcam online, so next time we go visit, everyone can see us rocking out in the studio.

Today was my first day helping out at an after school community center for Ethiopian olim called Beit Kehilah (literally, the house of the community). It's funny, much like was the case with the gan I worked at in Ashkelon, before we went on a site visit last week, I wasn't planning on working there. But we met with two of the center's directors and advisors and they told us what the center offered, and especially after briefly chatting with some of the kids, I decided it was exactly where I wanted to help. Middle school-age kids come after school at 1:30pm and are served a hot lunch, which is important because many of them come from lower income families who sometimes don't provide proper nutrition. So they eat and then start on their homework and have a small support staff to help them with their work.  They stay until 4:30ish and then the high schoolers come. My role is to help with English homework as needed, and if the kids have already done their homework, just talk about anything and get them to practice speaking in English. This is where I feel so fortunate that my Hebrew is as good as it is because I can switch from English to Hebrew to translate or explain something and then switch back to remind them to use their English. And it's so important for them to practice speaking because a lot of jobs, especially retail or food service jobs, require a certain level of English speaking ability.

Many of the kids I talked to first asked me where I was from and how long I was staying in Israel, and then asked me if I listened to the same American rap they did. And of course, pretty high up on that list is Tupac. I still don't understand how Ethiopian Israelis came to be obsessed with Tupac. I mean I know why I became obsessed with him, but it's really interesting that Israelis who were literally 2 or 3 when he died still know everything about him. So I actually spent a good 15 minutes talking to these 15 year old girls about Tupac...gotta love it!  Another reason I'm excited about volunteering there is the community center receives assistance as part of a project called Shiluvim, which is run by the Haifa/Boston Connection to help the Ethiopian community.  Generally volunteers have a chance to be involved on the committee level or on the grassroots level but not always both. By working with these students twice a week, I'll be able to see exactly how the aims and goals of the Shiluvim project are carried out in the community and how it helps build the future leaders of the community.

We've also had the chance to check out the nighlife in Haifa (yes, there are other places besides Scubar). Thursday night, a few of our other friends from Otzma came to visit and celebrate Jeremy's birthday – dinner in the German Colony followed by seeing HaDag Nahash live in concert. HaDag Nahash is one of my favorite Israeli bands – for those who haven't heard of them or their music, I can describe them as the Israeli version of the Roots, especially in concert, when they have 8 musicians on stage in addition to the two MCs. In addition to their classics and fan favorites such as "The Sticker Song" and "Hine Ani Ba", they played a few songs from their upcoming album, which should be out in the next couple of months.

For those that made it this far, the reward is this...here's the link to my album of pics from the first week in Haifa, enjoy!

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