Week 4 was all about getting our hands dirty as we had the opportunity to build on and influence our experiences by volunteering and involving ourselves in the community of Ofakim. Greater MetroWest and Ofakim are partner communities, so it was important for us to see and get to know the city.
On our first day, we broke up into groups and organized activities for the kids at a day camp. It was “America Day,” and we were the guests of honor. Activities that we led included Disney trivia, arts and crafts, sports, and dancing. At first, the young campers were hesitant and shy. But by the end of the day, the campers were holding on to our arms and legs as we all ran and danced around together. The evident connection that the kids felt with us was touching, and this connection was ultimately more powerful than the language barrier.
We stayed at an Ayalim village, and got acquainted with the Ayalim (as well as an adorable puppy named Nala). We visited a farm protected by the Shomera Chadasha, a volunteer security force, who protect it from criminal activity. One of the purposes of this farm is to connect the younger generation Israelis to Judaism and Zionism. As a group, we brainstormed ways the farm could potentially protect itself without using so much volunteer security.
The next day, we volunteered at Kibbutz Erez, another partner community. We planted trees, painted, and helped clean up. By the end of the day, everyone felt a special connection to the kibbutz due to our hard work and the positive outcome.
Afterward, we visited Eyal Assulin’s art exhibit at the Negev Museum of Art in Beer Sheva. His art reflects the influence of capitalism on modern society. He attempted to express the ambivalent attitude towards the machine, and his art illuminated the tension between capitalism and machinery vs. nature and the environment. It was interesting to talk directly to the artist and learn that his art expresses many of the issues and tensions that we are learning about and exploring.
Later, we learned about the trauma center in Ofakim where we would be working the next day. We talked to teen volunteers who are trained to deal with trauma and recognize three different types of shock. These teens go out into the field and find people in shelters. This organization is new to Ofakim; it has only been around for one year.
As a group, we were extremely impressed by the trauma center. The teens involved in this organization take the time and effort to volunteer to help others in conditions that most of us could not even fathom.
While most of us don’t like to admit it, when it comes to certain teenage volunteer work in America, some of us are motivated or forced to volunteer in order to build up our resumes for college and future job opportunities. It was inspiring to see teenagers helping others in such difficult situations solely out of the goodness of their hearts. There was no element of personal gain; the primary motivation was the volunteers’ sense of responsibility to help others in their community.
The next day, we spent more time with the teenage volunteers helping to redecorate the organization’s office building. We painted the interior walls and created murals. We learned that volunteers from Ofakim were going to Union Beach in New Jersey to help out victims of last year’s devastating Hurricane Sandy. This information drove home the importance of the mutual connection between the Greater MetroWest and Ofakim communities.
On Wednesday, we learned about the past, present, and future in the Negev with KKL-JNF. We learned about the hard work the organization does in the Negev, and explored the innovative agricultural development in the area, such as efficient use of water, land development, agriculture, and tourism. We learned about the water system in Ner’am and visited the Salad Garden, which uses innovative agricultural technology to grow environmentally friendly crops in the Negev. We got to pick and eat some of the fruits and vegetables, and we also sent out messages via pigeon carriers.
We ended the day by visiting Kibbutz Krammim, where we learned about herbal medication. There is a long waiting list to live on this kibbutz, where secular and religious Jews live together. They have so much to offer, so we weren’t surprised that many people wanted to be a part of this community.
Getting ready for the Onward Israel Weekend, we reflected on the many innovative ways that the land and natural resources in the Negev are being utilized. We also thought about the diversity of people and communities with whom we interacted and connected. All of us are appreciative of the opportunity we’ve had to learn through volunteering and the unique personal connections made with residents of the Negev.