A Look Inside Day-to-Day Life in Israel
Recently, I spent about two months in Israel with Skilled Volunteers for Israel, an innovative organization that creates meaningful service projects and volunteer experiences for active adults and retirees. As a volunteer, I tutored students in English, both middle school students in south Tel Aviv and nursing-field students at a youth center in Bat Yam, a smaller city adjacent to Tel Aviv. The work and the entire experience were extremely gratifying.
I arrived in Israel armed with much-less-than-fluent Hebrew, a Hebrew-English dictionary, and Google Translate. At the middle school, the English teachers turned me on to Morfix, another helpful language app. They also provided structure and were super-supportive of my work with their students. The kids, who for the most part had been learning English since grade school, were fun and generally well-motivated. Our interactions provided them with both a kind of enrichment and a chance to spend time with a native English speaker from America.
By contrast, the nursing-field students in Bat Yam did not have nearly as much English background, having madealiyah(moving to Israel to live) from Ethiopia at ages 10, 12, and 14, and thus needed to first learn Hebrew. However, they also needed a certain level of English for their school texts and future work. This tutoring was more challenging because I often had to communicate to a large extent in Hebrew and the structure of the lessons had to be worked out between the student and me. However, these students were super-motivated and appeared to really appreciate the opportunity to learn from a native English speaker. Skilled Volunteers for Israel hopes to continue to provide volunteers for the youth center in Bat Yam.
During my stay in Israel, I lived in an Airbnb apartment in the working-class neighborhood of Hatikva in south Tel Aviv, which includes the wonderful Hatikva shuk(market), where activity crescendos on Friday afternoons before Shabbat, and small, old Mizrachi synagogues, still in very active use. The neighborhood is home to significant populations of Mizrachi Jews, families originally from Russian-speaking countries, and African refugees from Somalia and Eritrea. My apartment was a brief bus ride to the middle school and a 20-minute bus ride to the youth center in Bat Yam. With little English spoken in the quarter, I had to use Hebrew more than I might otherwise have, which was a big plus and enriched my experience.
Although I did some touring in Israel for about a week and a half, most of my time was spent as a non-tourist. As such, I had to learn how and where to buy groceries and how to navigate the bus system. (Thank goodness for the Moovit transportation app!) As Minna, Skilled Volunteers for Israel’s central region volunteer coordinator, rightly told me, riding the buses puts you in close contact with Israeli society. Everyone rides the buses – secular and religious, poor and affluent, Arabs, Africans, soldiers, and more. It was quite commonplace for young people to offer me their seat on a crowded bus, though with my age denial, I usually politely declined.
My volunteer work with Skilled Volunteers for Israel was part of the organization’s “Israel from Inside” initiative and, happily, I realized during my stint that I was indeed living inside Israel – dealing daily with the language, culture, work issues, and real people of the country – and not as a passive observer of the scene.
Norm Freeman is a semi-retired neurologist living in Portland, Oregon. He is enjoying trying to improve his Hebrew.