Today, we went to a day care center in southern Tel Aviv. Unlike the day care center I went to as a toddler, this small apartment was at the top of three flights of stairs with flakes of paint on the floor and dirt on the walls. In the one-room apartment, there were two windows and a small light on the ceiling.
When we first walked through the door at the top of the stairs, the 30 kids, who are all sons and daughters of Sudanese and Eritrean migrant workers, burst into cheers. They jumped and smiled and hugged our legs as we filed into the small, cramped room. I was immediately called abah (Hebrew for “dad”) and the girl volunteers emah (“mom”). Over the next two hours we would try to be the best mom and dad as we could to these children.
With our help, the two day care workers were able to organize a rare field trip to a nearby play ground. Days when volunteers like us come to assist are the only times staff have the capacity to be able to bring the kids outside to play.
After nearly 10 minutes of corralling all the kids and getting everyone to hold hands, we made the hot journey to the playground that was about a 15-minute walk away. Upon arrival to the park, all the kids yelled "yayyy" as they ran to the play structure and swigs and jumped with joy. It was like they had been held captive and were finally released into their natural habitat to run, climb, and be kids.
Some of the kids we had to teach how to climb, step by step, with many trials. Some kids hit others and threw fits as they struggled to understand the concept of sharing, but in our broken Hebrew, we were able to bring them one step closer to considerate behavior.
As the babies crawled around in the corner, the bigger kids ran back and forth in and around the play structure. It was obvious that all these kids were loving the attention and freedom to play that they aren't lucky enough to have on a normal day.
We did our best to keep the kids safe while playing. Between acting as a safety net below the ladder and picking up dirty syringes that were scattered on the ground, we gave the children a fun experience.
After bringing everyone back to the apartment room and when it was all over and time for us to leave, we didn't want to have a long goodbye in order to save the kids from any attachment issues. We scurried out the door as we gave our last high fives to our new friends. Although many of them now had tears on their faces, we knew that our presence of just a few hours made a positive difference to these kids' lives.
After the ten day Birthright trip, I came away with a new, more scrambled, knowledge of the intricate conflict between Israel and the Palestinian territories. This conflict, of which most of us at least know a little about, has so many different parts that it is impossible for anyone to fully understand.
After learning about the immense complexity of the conflict, I was even more dumbfounded to learn that there was yet another aspect to the Israeli struggle in its challenges in accommodating and supporting immigrants from Africa and around the world.
The volunteer experience in Tel Aviv opened up my eyes to the complexity of the world we live in and its countless difficulties – and there are surely so many other issues in the tiny country of Israel that I have not even been introduced to.
Even though there are countless difficulties, this volunteering experience also made me realize that there is a way to help just about anyone who is in need, even if they are thousands of miles away.
Benjamin Merenbloom '18 is a student at UNC-Chapel Hill from Raleigh.