By Miriam Seiden
Sydney Luks of Montclair is a 2021 graduate of Eckerd College. She studied sociology, focusing on global human trafficking. She completed a field study in Cambodia during her sophomore year, meeting with survivors in rehab programs. In summer, 2018 she interned with Common River NGO in Aleto Wando, Ethiopia where she taught English to elementary school children. This was her third trip to Ethiopia as both of her sisters were adopted from there. In 2020 she interned again, this time at an NGO in Sarasota, FL, concentrating on human trafficking and safe homes for survivors.
Last month Sydney completed her 10-month Fellowship with Yahel Social Change Fellowship in Israel, an immersive service-learning experience for young adults from around the world. Yahel, which operates in Federation’s partner community of Rishon LeZion, is one of many vital projects supported by Greater MetroWest in Israel. Based in the almost entirely immigrant, low-income Ethiopian/Russian neighborhood of Ramat Eliyahu, Sydney and nine other volunteers learned the skills to become lifelong leaders of social change while working in a variety of 25 community organizations and projects.
They touched the lives of 750 children, adults, seniors, and those with special needs as they collectively gave a total of 8,000 volunteer hours. This volunteer work is impacting socio-economic development, English language advancement and Living Bridges – meaningful relationships between Americans and Israelis – in Ramat Eliyahu.
Sydney worked most closely with the Ethiopian Jewish community, teaching elementary school English, working in after school programs, organizing large scale art projects for youth groups and at-risk teens, taking care of daycare babies, writing applications for international awards for the community center’s free produce garden, and helping employees at a workplace for people with cognitive disabilities. “My role was to aid in whatever capacity the community needs, and I was more than happy to do so,” she said.
Her affinity for Israel began at age 12 while visiting with her family. She returned to study in her senior year of high school and couldn’t wait to graduate college and go back. “It’s hard to describe the innate feeling of contentment I get here. It’s a natural belonging that I’ve never felt elsewhere. The land, the culture, the food, the attitude, the community, the intensity of moral dilemmas, the welcoming open-door policy, are all qualities I am privileged to experience here,” she said. “Despite all the beautiful qualities this place holds, I am passionate about fighting the injustices that are historically and presently plaguing those who live on this land.”
When asked what she’s learned: “The biggest lesson I’ve learned here thus far is the concept of multiple truths. I am reminded that two people can live through the same event and have two very different experiences. This teaches me patience and alleviates the frustration of miscommunication. Having a nuanced perspective of life in Israel is essential to understanding the reality of the various communities.”
Sydney passionately believes that it’s not enough to wish for a better world; it’s vital to address injustices in our own communities and remember that all social issues are inherently interconnected. In her words: “I believe Judaism sets a foundation to advocate for all underserved and disenfranchised populations; it is our moral obligation to take this foundation and build a garden.”
For more information on Yahel, visit https://www.yahelisrael.com/
To learn more about the projects that Federation supports in Israel check out our Global Connections web page.