Thursday, February 13, 2014

Letter from Israel: Suzanne Stone From Netanya

Here is the most recent dispatch from Suzanne, dated 2/28:

Dear Family and Friends,

Our tiyul last Sunday was very interesting as all have been. First we visited a JNF nursery. We met the manager who immigrated from Ethiopia 20 yrs. ago. He studied agriculture for 2 yrs.
there and then studied in Russia new agricultural techniques. Two of his three sons were born in Israel. We had the opportunity to learn and see the different early stages of growth prior to the tree planting.

From there we went to the Biriya Forest/Fortress in the upper Galilee. It was the site of several battles for the right of the Jewish People to settle in our land. We toured the site and watched a film.

From there we went to the Hula Valley, the second largest bird migration sanctuary. Over 500 million birds have come here. We saw the crane migration, 33,000 cranes. Approximately 200,000 people have visited the Hula Valley. Just amazing!

We ended the day with a visit to a Rabbi's tomb with "special" powers and spent some time in Safad.

Last Friday, Norman and I went to Tel Aviv and visited the Diaspora Museum (very well done) and the Erez Israel Museum, another enjoyable day.

During our time in Naytana we have had the opportunity to hear several interesting speakers on topics of antisemitism, history, security, etc. One afternoon we went to a Women's Study Program. There were several breakout sessions, some in Hebrew, English, Russian and Spanish. The program was started with Mincha and several prayers were said in the four languages.  We also had the opportunity to spend an evening with friends of Jan (a women we know from Stamford) who made Aliyah and hear about their experiences and perspectives.

Tuesday evening the teachers at Churnikofski School hosted a dinner for us at Ann's house (chairwoman of the English department) as a token of their appreciation of our volunteer work.
In addition many of the students wrote thank you notes to each of us.

The Tom school gave each of us a beautiful prayer book.

A few more student experiences. I had the opportunity to have time with a young man one on one which is unusual because each class has so many students.  We discussed a Hebrew book of short stories. He practiced English by telling me about each story and its moral. All the messages were so important and I wondered if our students read similar books.  At TOM we helped the students with their projects. These projects are a required part of their matriculation exam (Bagrut) for the army and university. I worked with two young men. They were doing their project on Ethipoia. They were having trouble understanding how to organize the material, etc, They know how to find Wikipedia but then have difficulty knowing what to do with all the information. We all thought that this was our most productive day. My students  expressed their appreciation by saying "God Bless You". I'm sure you can imagine how I felt.

You may wonder as I had "why Natanya?" The program was started about 20 years ago by Edit's (program director) father who was born in Natanya. He organized several youth programs and then decided to add a program for seniors.  Originally Bnai Brith and Hadassah coordinated the program and 100+ people volunteered. However, today only Hadassah is involved and there only are 10-15 volunteers. Several return year after year and I'm concerned that the program will cease when they don't return. I strongly encourage those of you who have the time and the means to seriously consider  doing this. As I hope you realize this experience has far exceeded our expectations.

Natanya  is the perfect place for several reasons. It is not too big or too small, the beach/sea is magnificent, the town is welcoming, there is easy transportation to many places, and there are Orthodox, Conservative Reform synagogues. There also is a Haradi community that lives in harmony with the other people; each respecting the others's ways. Another plus is the exercise equipment on the beach facing the sea. The experience is both energizing and spiritual. Those   of you who don't like to exercise may reconsider once here. It certainly beats looking at my basement walls. It is one of the many things that I will miss.

Well, this morning we left Natanya and are going to the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I am writing to you while on the bus. Now we are riding along the Dead Sea and the view is glorious.

Shabbat Shalom!
L'hitraot! See you in the USA.


TBE's Suzanne and Norman Stone are spending the month volunteering in Israel.  Below is a dispatch sent by Suzanne on 2/21, followed by her prior dispatch.  

The atmosphere in Israel is calm and seems no different than it is in Stamford. No one appears to  and be concerned about security or war. It is a given that the Arabs hate Israel and want to destroy it but they need to and will live in this environment and not worry everyday. The best  they expect is the status quo - no peace/no war.

Most of the students do not worry about security and certainly don't think about it most of the time. However, a few students who have lived through the shelling and bombing share how terrible it was and are very fearful. Although they are not optimistic about peace, many think that it is good for President Obama and Secretary Kerry to be involved because without their push Netanyahu and Abbas would not sit down and talk but others think that they they don't know what is best for Israel and should not interfere. Most think that there will never be peace. They very firm in their opinions and don't hesitate to tell you.

They look forward to serving in the Army and many want to be in combat and paratroopers. They are proud to support Israel in any way they can. Many have brothers and sisters who have been or are now in the Army which influences which divisions they will select.

Their interests and way of life are similar to our young people. However, they appear to be more worldly and certainly knowledgable about the government and world affairs. Several have voiced anger at the difficult economic situation and the injustices of the government.  The cost of living continuously increases  and they think that too much money is given to the Army and not enough to everyone else. Some say that there is no way for them to save.

Most have traveled extensively because unlike the US, Israel is very a small country. Also many countries are close and not too expensive to visit.

The students are very happy to have us there and thank us for coming and ask us to come back. It is so nice to see how they help each other. When one student doesn't understand a question or know the correct answer in English, another one explains in Hebrew or provides the right answer.
They seem to be very close and caring. If there is a student who is not comfortable speaking others explain that he/she is shy.

The ask about what Americans think about Israel and are very happy to hear that we love Israel.

Shabbat Shalom!

Here is Suzanne's prior email:

Dear Family and Friends,

Our numerous experiences this week have been exciting, exhilarating  and most memorable.

On Monday morning, we started our volunteering at TOM, a boarding school for Ethiopian boys. The school's focus is Torah and technical skills.We work with students from four different classes. Each volunteer works with a small group (2-4) of students. Some of the boys have recently immigrated while others have been here a few years. It is easy to understand how difficult and challenging their new life is. They have to learn to adapt to a totally new culture and way of life as well as learn Hebrew and English and all the other academic subjects. They go home every other weekend. The newer, mostly younger students know very little English which makes our time challenging. However after awhile it gets easier as you figure out how best to communicate. We help them improve their conversational skills and gain confidence. The students help each other which is very nice to see. The boys are very polite and friendly and appear glad to see us. The Director is unbelievably dedicated as are the teachers. They treat the children as if they were their own, creating a very warm, caring and loving environment. We go to TOM again on Wed.

On Tuesday morning we volunteer at Churnakofsky Jr. and  Sr. High School. Most of the students are Israeli with a few Russians. Our primary objective is to work with the students to help them improve their conversational English. There is an oral component of their university exam to demonstrate proficiency in English. Due to the large class size (37-39 students) teachers do not have the time to work with small groups of students. Both the teachers and the students are very happy and appreciative to have us. The students are warm and friendly and enjoy taking with us. As at Tom, each of us works with a small group of students. On Tues. we have four different classes and on Thurs. five. For the most part the students are very bright, worldly and well traveled. They look forward to going to the Army and many know which units they prefer often hoping to serve in the best and most demanding units.

In 12th grade they are required to do a project focusing on a social issue/problem. One of our assignments is to discuss the projects with the students as practice for their oral exam. Some of the projects include alcoholism, drug addiction, anorexia and global poverty.

It is a real honor and pleasure to spend time with these students. Both Norman and I love it. The students are so interesting, discussing their interests, politics both in Israel and America, their future and their families.

After lunch we have Hebrew ulpan. Our teacher, Noga Becker is excellent and very patient. I'm not sure how well we will speak when we return but we are enjoying the process. Norman is very anxious to learn to speak and practices a lot more than most.

As it is late and our days start early and end late, I will try to follow-up with our other activities last week tomorrow.

Suzanne and Norman

PS  I do want to assure those of you have expressed concern that Norman is having a wonderful time and is having fun with the students. This is a very special experience for both of us. We are grateful for the opportunity

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