Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Letters from Israel: Suzanne Stone and Jan Gaines in Netanya

The latest dispatch from TBE's Suzanne Stone, who is spending several weeks in Israel.  A new dispatch from Jan Gaines, also in Netanya, is below that.

Dear Family and Friends, 

As I mentioned previously, on Sundays we go on tiyulim (tours). Friday is a free day and Norman  and I have explored on our own. The first Friday we went to Caesarea National Park by taxi and last Friday we went to Haifa by train (they are lovely) and took a tour of the B'hai Gardens.

We have seen many special sites. As most, if not all of you know, everywhere you go in Israel there is an archeological/historical site and we have seen many. We also have visited a few museums. However, rather than tell you about these experiences, I decided to focus on the numerous examples of how the government helps  young people who come from disadvantaged and/or abusive homes.

The TOM (Torah&Midah/science)school where we volunteer twice a week is a both a boarding and commuter high  school primarily for Ethiopian boys. However, there are Israeli boys who have had difficulties in other schools who commute. There are 220 boys who board and go home every other weekend. Most  have 8 or 9 siblings, some are here in Israel and others in Ethiopia waiting to immigrate. They are faced with many challenges, learning to live in a totally different society and culture in addition to learning Hebrew and English and many other subjects. Thirty-five boys come from a nearby youth village and 25 are local commuters. Most know very little English. The principal is extremely dedicated and caring giving the boys above and beyond what one would expect. The teachers also are very patient and caring. The students do not pay any tuition.

Another example is the Neourim Youth Village. This school was started in 1948 to help refugees acclimate. Today 30% are Ethiopians and the others from Russia Ukraine and all areas of Israel. Approximately 70% are male and 30% female. There are 300 students and 140 are new. Only students who cannot be supported at home can attend. Many are problem students and/or come from problem homes. There are dormitories and day students. In addition to the school curriculum there are after school activities leading to a certification such as hair dressing. Some participate in a 2 year program training dogs for the army which leads to being in a good division when they enter the army. The students are taught how to study, become independent and responsible. Many also are sent on March of the Living. They try to provide a good home environment especially for Nalet students (those who come to Israel without their parents from Russia, Ukarine, etc.). The students can also return after they serve in the army. We met many of the students in the choir who entertained us.

Another interesting experience was a visit to Beit El a community of Zionist religious Christians. They heard the call (a vision) to go to Israel and become one people with Israel. They came to Israel in 1963, mostly from Europe including Germany andsome from Canada. They believe that if you pray with faith for the redemption, God will make it happen. Until 2004 they had to go back and forth but now they are permanent residents (not citizens). They built a factory to manufacture aeration equipment providing jobs for their own as well as Israelis. Their choir sang psalms in Hebrew.

Today I had a very special experience. I worked with a 12th grader at TOM reviewing his final project. They are required to write a report and present it orally. He chose to write about Nelson Mandela because he thought that he was a great man who did wonderful things. Although he understood the general information, there were several details that were not clear to him. He asked me many questions which led to a meaningful discussion. At the end of our session he thanked me for helping him understand all the concepts that had not been clear. He had a big smile and was very happy. I'm sure that you can imagine how heartened I was.  The director told me afterwards that at home he is ignored and put down. With the love and caring he is given at TOM he has begun to come out of his shell and begun to grow intellectually, emotionally and socially. Without this opportunity he would have a very different life. Now he thinks of going to the university after the Army.

A few tidbits before I sat good night. In both the Jr. and Sr. High School,  the student call their teachers by their first names. Also, The signal to change classes is music not a bell.

Hope that you have seen the last of the snow and that spring comes early.


(from Jan Gaines)

It's about 80 under a cloudy sky. Erev Shabbat. Friday afternoon, 2:00 p.m.  I decided to take a long walk on the beach.

I leave my building and enter the Tayelet or Promenade that runs for several miles along the Netanya beach. There is a playground a few hundred yards from where I start.  And a small rise of grass for watching parents.  The first group I see are Israeli Arabs, about 15 of them, having a picnic and enjoying their Shabbat, which is Friday. Their kids are on the playground romping with Israeli kids. Next up are skate boarding kids on the round rink; along with their Russian parents watching carefully;  I find Russian grandparents especially are very careful with their grandchildren and keep a steel eye on them at all times.

I go by a father pushing double strollers with a happy twin smiling up at him. Then a chattering group of French - - - - it seems they are always chattering no matter where I see them; in our outdoor cafes, in the shops, you can't miss them.

 I reach the central steps down to the beach; over 100 of them. Good exercise coming back up.  Another group of French, this time teens jostling each other.  Then two weary Arab women dressed of course with full headdress and long skirts, puffing their way slowly one step at a time. I feel sorry for them. All that weight of their clothes added to the steep climb.

Once on the beach, there's a lot of action.  Of course there's the ubiquitous paddle ball duos, a traditional element in Israeli beach culture. A group of Mizrachi men playing a home made game of soccer with the goals made out of bent metal pieces.  How do I know they are Mizrachi?  Their music on the radio gives them away. There are no waves but there are kids on surf boards anyway, some using poles to stay afloat for a long distance. 

 There are some hearty bathers.  I would guess the temperature of the ocean to be around 60 but these are men eager to start the season early.  A Dad playing a kind of badminton with his 9 year old son. They are tourists for sure, because they are dressed like it and natives don't play badminton on the beach. I hear a British English.

A group of Ethiopian teenagers throwing around a small beach ball, but lest you think the Ethiopians still self segregate, right after them a black and white pair of guy friends.  And they are part of a group of young couples, still without kids, seated on the sand shooting the breeze.

I reach my part of the beach, again with over 100 stairs going up to the street. Washing off my feet, someone calls Hi Jan.  It's Omri, son of my adopted family. He' 14 and gorgeous, but hates school so he has a group of concerned teachers as well as his parents and grandparents all discussing alternative schools for him next year. And there are some very good ones. I'll see Omri tonight for Shabbat dinner with his family (and mine by now) so a couple more kisses and he's off with surfboard and friend.

It's only been about 20 minutes but I feel I've seen the whole of Israel in miniature. And I love it. It gives me peace and hope.  

 Shabbat Shalom,  Jan Gaines

PS Suzanne and Norman Stone are coming over Shabbat evening, Saturday night and I've invited some friends to meet them.  They are so busy it's been hard to give me an evening. They are loving it here.

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