Israel Pathways group tasting the past at Kahalat Nimrod on the Golan
Often depressed and saddened by unrelenting news of the Israeli media which tends to show only the downsides of and fears for the future of our society, it is a splash of warm sunlight on a chilly winter’s day when one encounters some hope for the future, shares joy and interest and meets the positive side of young Jewish society. And so it was up here in the Galilee when I had the pleasure of meeting a group of participants who are part of a new program launched by MASA. Israel Pathways is part of a project of the government of Israel and Jewish communities around the world. They are represented by the Jewish Agency and its partners – United Jewish Communities, the Federations of North America and Keren Hayesod. MASA enables young Jews from across the world to spend up to a year in Israel, and they can choose from as many as 160 different programs.
The participants I met are on a program called Israel Corps which is based in Kiryat Shmona. Their first four weeks in Israel are spent obtaining knowledge of the Hebrew language given on different levels, as many of them know some Hebrew. During this time they are also introduced to life in this small northerly town and its surroundings, and assisted in preparation for the community work which awaits them. There are also enrichment programs which include courses and lectures at Tel Hai College where they meet and mix with Israeli students and where their accommodation is provided in the College dormitories.
Current Volunteer Projects in which they take part:
- Assisting the Tennis Center which runs a drop-out prevention program where students during school hours and do fun activities as a reward for high attendance at school.
- Helping out at Kadima, an afterschool program for children from high risk homes.
- Teaching English at a local high school.
- Helping take care of over 250 dogs at the local no-kill dog shelter.
- Facilitating animal therapy sessions for children, and helping take care of the animals at Kfar Giladi, a local kibbutz farm hosting goats, dogs, and other farm animals.
- Planning after-school activities and assisting teachers at a local elementary school.
- Performing maintenance and upkeep at the Golden Park garden project.
- Collecting data and releasing birds at the Hula Valley bird banding station.
- Working in a classroom at a special needs school with both low and high-functioning students.
In addition to volunteering there are also educational programs and tours in the Galilee region, the Negev and Jerusalem. Besides touring they have preparatory lectures about past and present Israel and hopefully they can begin to grasp the complications of life here. With more comprehensive knowledge they will return home with a deeper understanding of the difficulties and challenges of life in Israel and will be able to hold their own in arguments and discussions at their places of learning and work and in society. Social nights are also organized as well as two full weeks of 'time out' which allows them to explore Israel on their own.
Meeting with participants of this newly introduced program in the Galilee as well as with local Program Director, Tami Nir Peretz, was stimulating. Tami is very enthusiastic about the feedback she is getting from the group. It was at the adoption day for a number of the dogs sheltered in the Bashan Kennels that I met some of the group. Their pleasure in their work, love shown for the canines they were caring for, plus the comforting words spoken to the dogs in English enticed me into conversation. The zest they showed for their work in the projects filled me with admiration plus hope for the future outcomes of such programs; some of the participants had already been in Israel on Birthright programs and were drawn back here. On the subject of love and happiness, one young couple informed me that the program was special to them as not only had they fallen in love with their surroundings but with one another and they intended to marry.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Nick from San Francisco who had taken a year out; he is involved in the local community program for ecological gardening which is carried out in schools and neighborhoods in Kiryat Shmona. His intention is to continue in this field and stay on to gain further experience in organic agriculture.
Zoom is another program that MASA encourages participants to take part in. It takes place at Camera Obscura, a well known arts school and media education center in central Tel Aviv, where they can take a special course in Israeli photography, learn about Israel from a different perspective and, hopefully, they will take film and written material home with them as well as broadcasting skills which they can use – again, to help Israeli P.R.
There are also opportunities to study or complete studies here in Israel with a wide choice of scholarships.
Barbara Abraham was born in Belfast, Ireland. She has a B.A. (Dundee University). In Israel she has had a career in tourism and writing. Her articles are published in overseas and local journals and newspapers.