Soren Barnett ’20, Onward Israel Diversity and Social Justice, Haifa, Israel: Blog 2/3

Hello or שלום!

In this blog 2/3, I will be covering: Internship at the Moadonit, challenges with the program and SEF, and tips.  For a more complete report and background, please read the other two parts of my blog!

Moadonit

For the first several weeks, I was working at this place called a moadonit on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  It is a place for kids from 1st-4th grade to come after school and then during part of the summer to play and do some activities/learn.  All of the students were at-risk because of various rough familial situations so this was a place that they can come and feel safe and socialize, have fun, and learn.

On the first few days of this internship, I barely had any idea what was going on.  I was suddenly in a room with approximately eight 8-10 year-olds who were just yelling lots of Hebrew at me that I didn’t understand and I had never actually formally worked with kids before so I had doubts about my ability to connect with them.

The kids were so sweet and patient with me and my limited Hebrew and they were often willing to help teach me some new words or repeat themselves or use gestures to help me understand what they were trying to say.  They would also always beam with pride every time they say something in English, like “thank you” or a color.  It also turns out that I actually really act like a 10 year-old myself, so I fit right in and was always game to play their games, play in the pool with them for hours at a time on Thursdays, and have silly dance parties with their Fortnite dances.  And being around the kids so much forced me to learn quite a bit of Hebrew very quickly which was awesome!

The language barrier made the interaction between the kids and myself very interesting.  I often did not have the language to tell them not to do something, to behave properly, or be gentle.  They were the ones often telling me what to do and I was just try to keep up.  Thus the power dynamics felt very backwards at times and I had to try not to let them take advantage of me too much.  When conflicts would arise, I would often step back and let the actual teacher person, Shosh, intervene, which she was very good at.  Shosh and Hana, a person who would cook for the kids, are good friends and would often hang out and play with the kids as well, or have funny conversations with me.  Shosh speaks some English, which made things much easier at times, and Hana is from Morocco and speaks French, so I was able to communicate with her in French.  It was the coolest thing, intellectually, when a conversation would be taking place among the three of us that was some combination of Hebrew, French, and English!  Except my brain would often be confused and I invented the language of Frebrew.  The above picture is me with Shosh and Hana (the kids could not be pictured for safety reasons), who wanted to show off their building and the Israeli flag.

I ended up making really strong connections with the kids, which felt so awesome!  I was able to gain a lot of Hebrew and interacting with kids skills, have fun, and be with adorable kids, and they seemed to really enjoy having someone to play with, who could help fix their goggles, and play new games with them.  I also was their age not very long ago and remember how it felt at times so when someone was upset, I tried to be compassionate and supportive, even if I didn’t have the words to help.  By the end, we had built strong connections, they completely accepted me (I was a “boy” to them but because of my trans* identity, I was not a type of person they had seen before), and it really felt like they got something positive out of my being there and I’m so glad that I was able to help people and have a positive impact on the kids, Shosh’s, and Hana’s lives.

Challenges with the program and SEF

The Onward Program that I did and especially the organization, Israel Experts, that they’re working with are not perfect and my peers and I encountered various issues.  For me, the biggest challenge with that was finding out on my first day of work that my original internship wasn’t going to be getting me anywhere close to 250 hours (I was previously told it would).  So that is why I began working at the Moadonit and later, when that ended for the summer, the LGBTQ+ center.  Though this situation was a bit frustrating, it actually turned out for the best as the various internships have provided me with a much more diverse body of knowledge and perspectives and let me meet and connect to more people, for which I’m very grateful.

Tips

In relation to the last point, I would say to anyone looking to do similar programs that one has to be aware of the cultural differences as well as the organization of the particular program.  I think it may have been a combination of some bits of Israeli and even Ethiopian culture, mixed with some issues in the Israel Experts organization that created the problem.  But it’s also hard to know how to deal with/anticipate certain cultural differences and various interactions or issues that can result from them until one knows the culture well enough to know the cultural difference and the different way of seeing/handling something.

Another tip for those interested in internship programs like this one is to first decide what your goals are for the summer/experience.  Then make sure the program is designed in a way such that you’ll be able to meet those goals.  Because of some of the issues within my program, some of my peers were very frustrated that they were not able to meet their goals for the summer that mostly involved getting more formal career experience.  I am a very optimistic person and try make the most of every situation I’m in, but I also feel that I was lucky in terms of my goals for the summer and my ability to meet them with this program, even despite the program’s issues.

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