This interview is part of the Yahel Alumni Spotlight Series, where we catch up with past Yahel participants to hear about their experience with Yahel and what they’re up to now.
It’s been 8 months since alumna Mel Kartzmer left Israel after 9 months of volunteering with Yahel. She is an alumna of the Yahel Social Change Fellowship '16-'17. We recently caught up with Mel to hear about her experiences on Yahel and how she has seen Yahel's impact since the program ended.
Yahel: Tell us about yourself. Who are you?
Mel: I am a native New Yorker now living in the wonderful city of Denver. I am 27 years old and attended the University of Vermont (go Catamounts!). I love traveling, playing volleyball, discussing politics, watching football, and baking (chocolate chip banana bread is my specialty!).
Y: So Mel, what are you up to now?
M: Currently, I am living (and loving life!) in Denver and working for the Denver Afterschool Alliance. The DAA is a collaboration between Denver Public Schools and the Office of Children's Affairs (a department in the mayor's office). Their mission is to develop a sustainable, citywide afterschool system to increase access to and participation in quality afterschool programs for all Denver's youth in order to keep kids safe, inspire kids to learn and prepare them for the future. In my free time, I am enjoying the great outdoors, learning guitar, and spending time with friends.
Y: What did you do while you were a Yahel Fellow?
M: I had the privilege of teaching English at two schools, a religious one called HaMeiri and a secular one called Levi Eshkol. It was fascinating to be at two very different schools— I feel that it gave me a broader perspective about the diversity in Lod. I also volunteered at the Lod Young Adult Center and ran an afterschool program once a week at Levi Eshkol for 5th graders.
Y: How did you bring what you learned on Yahel back home with you?
M: All of my experiences during the Yahel Fellowship reminded me of how many different perspectives there can be on one issue. At work when I'm in meetings or when facilitating a training, I strive to create a space where people can feel comfortable sharing their opinions and fostering an inclusive environment. I try to look at issues from a variety of lenses. There are such huge, complex realities that many Israelis face in their daily lives that are so intertwined with history and emotion. Being exposed to that has had a lasting impact on me.
Y: What was your biggest take-away from the fellowship?
M: There are so many things! I think one of my biggest take-aways was the belief that in order to make change, you need community buy-in and you need to create partnerships with folks who have the respect of the community and are committed to doing the work. My volunteer placements taught me what that work looks like, and one of the things that impressed me the most about Yahel is the organization's dedication to creating sustainable change. The staff pushed us to think about how the work that we did every day would last beyond our 9 months there.
Y: What was your favorite Yahel moment?
M: Some of the best Yahel moments for me were on the seminars. I would never have gotten the opportunity to meet and experience homestays in a Druze or Bedouin community had I not been on Yahel. These were such rich experiences-- the conversations, food, connection and learning was unforgettable, and I feel so grateful to have met these incredible people.
Thank you, Mel! It was great to hear about your personal experiences as a Yahel Social Change Fellow and the amazing work that you are doing now!