Going into the post-Birthright extension program, I had a few expectations. I thought we would have a lot of free time for shopping, eating and sightseeing. I also knew we were going to be doing some volunteer work, but it stayed in the back of my mind. I think I assumed we would spend a few hours with some kids and be on our way. Some of the expectations were right on the nose while others could not have been more off.
Yes, we had plenty of free time for all the shopping Carmel Market had to offer and to eat all the food in Old Jaffa, but the volunteer work is what really stood out during this time. On our first day of the extension, after saying goodbye to all of our new friends from Birthright, we learned about the work we would be doing. We would be helping out in a daycare for children of refugees from mostly south Sudan. While these immigrants were not legal citizens, they were not turned away, as if living in a limbo situation with no benefits but no immediate punishments. Never before had I learned about “Asylum-Seekers” and the problems currently facing their population, mostly in southern Tel Aviv. The idea of refugees was not foreign to me and neither was the idea of the struggles of the lower class, but seeing it in Israel after experiencing the rose-tinted view we had just come off of was a bit of a shock. Birthright formed a very specific idea of Israel, but the extension program was there to show reality and the challenges Israel faces. This whole picture has given me a better understanding of the country and all the people within it.
Our first day of volunteering was overwhelming to say the least. Each child needed so much attention and with only nine of us for the 40 kids, it became a stressful situation. When it wasn’t chaotic, it was fun to just interact with the children. Many years as a camp counselor have taught me that all kids love the swings and can never keep track of their own coat. Even though many of them spoke little English, we were still able to communicate. When all else failed, we learned the word “lo”, meaning no. That one sure came in handy.
The daycare was small, but the children learned to be entertained with what they had. We could play simple games that we taught them and some they taught to us. We began to remember names and attitudes and each day remained a challenge, but at least we knew what we were up against.
While we weren’t at the daycare, we were able to explore downtown Tel Aviv. One of the best nights was New Year’s Eve. Obviously in America there are fireworks and large celebrations, but Israelis don’t seem to have the same appreciation as we do. Celebrations were small and fireworks were non-existent, but that didn’t stop anyone from having a good time. The streets were always filled with people and every place was a fun experience.
When it came time to leave, it felt as though I was just getting situated into my new Israeli life. I had a job, a favorite restaurant, a favorite stand at the market and, of course, an Aroma where they were so close to learning my name and memorizing my order. It was hard to board that El Al flight, but I’m glad I stayed for the extension, which give me a peek into what Israel is really all about. I can’t wait to go back.
Avery Williams (middle, in the photo) is a Junior from Charlotte, NC. She majors in Journalism and is a Campus Editor for the Tab UNC. She went on NC Hillel’s Birthright Israel trip and Extension program in December 2016 and is also a member of UNC Chapel Hill’s Jewish interest sorority, Sigma Rho Lambda. Blog posts are written by individual students and may not represent the opinion or position of North Carolina Hillel.