Today’s blog post was written by Betty Soibel, a Yahel Social Change Fellow living, learning and volunteering for 9 months in Lod, Israel.
Yesterday morning, like most mornings, I was supposed to work on English skills with a group of 7th grade girls at my morning placement at Noam HaMeiri, an all girls religious elementary school in Lod. Per usual, I sat and waited in the teachers' lounge until the bell signaled that tefillah was over and I could sneak into the chaotic classroom and collect my small group of pupils.
On this exceptional morning, however, the girls' homeroom teacher had a birthday. Suddenly, the English lesson was canceled and I was invited to simply sit in, eat some cake, and join the class festivities.
The teacher joyfully handed out cake (much more popular than her Torah lessons!) and asked her class if they had any blessings for her birthday. And then, the most wonderful thing happened! Girls all over the class, even the typically apathetic ones, shot their hands up and waited impatiently to bless their teacher for her birthday. The blessings ranged from "I hope you have twenty grandsons" to " I wish you endless money and endless happiness" to "I bless you with our good grades on the test tomorrow." Their blessings were sweet, endearingly comical, and most touchingly, utterly sincere. They showered their teacher with blessings with so much love and intentionality that I felt as if I was glowing with the warmth of the space they had created.
Betty with Yahel Fellows Hayley and Amelia on a visit to Tel Aviv
My two months in Lod have been full of similar moments-simply times when I am just so awestruck by the accidental beauty created by the people of this city. Israelis (and my parents) laugh when I say this. After all, Lod is colloquially known as the "asshole of Israel," a city you should try to escape before you even arrive. But if my urban studies major in college taught me anything, it's that the process of placemaking starts with one's perception of a space. Sure, the sidewalks in this town are more often litter-strewn than not and there's not a single restaurant to be seen, but there's a hardiness and a heartiness in this town the likes of which I've never encountered. For example, a lone Ethiopian man tends a quaint vegetable garden in the yard of my building, and from our window, you can watch the same children walk home from school everyday and chase a naughty rooster back into his pen. And once, a pipe burst in the neighboring building, and men and women of every background and state of dishevelment came out to noisily argue over how best to dam the flooding.
This morning, like most mornings, I walked out of my building into my building's parking lot to cats and trash galore.
On this exceptional morning, however, I noticed the tiniest palm tree, bright green and smaller than the palm of my hand, straining to grow free through a crack in the cement, and I couldn't help but feel that I was glowing with warmth.