Dana is a current fellow with the Yahel Social Change Fellowship 2019-2020 cohort, living and volunteering in Lod. Here, she gives us some insight into her experience as a Yahel fellow so far:
Tell us a bit about yourself - where are you from and what did you study in school?
I am from New York and went to school at the State University of New York at New Paltz. I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography and a minor in Psychology. For the last two years, I have been working in art galleries and museums in Manhattan.
What is some of the work you're doing right now through Yahel?
I volunteer in several places throughout Lod. I teach English at an Arab Elementary school to 4th - 6th graders. After school, I teach English at Tesfa, an evening program for Eritrean kids. I work in the Development Department for the non-profit The Abraham Initiatives. The Abraham Initiatives strives for equal political and social rights for Jewish and Arab citizens. I photograph their events, conduct grant research and write a blog about their work on The Times of Israel. I also created an English course at the local young adult center that includes people of all religions.
What is something you've felt excited about in your Yahel experience so far?
I cherish the opportunity to learn about so many different people’s lives in Israel from first-hand experience. Quality of life changes vastly based on one’s religion and location in this country. It is important to hear the different narratives that make up this place. There is also a large educational component of this program. We hear from different experts in all areas such as life for Israeli Arabs, the history of Ethiopian Jews in Israel, social justice work through Jewish learning and fundraising and development practices. This educational component brings context to the people we are working with on the ground.
What is something you've been motivated or inspired by since you arrived in Israel for the fellowship?
Whenever I tell people I live in Lod, I usually get one of three responses: Lod is a lost cause. Why would you want to go there? Lod is a dangerous place. These responses portray the misrepresentation of Lod or the lack thereof. Lod is a place with struggles and challenges. It is in the periphery of Israel, socio-economically speaking, with a complicated history. But what I see every day is people working tirelessly to make Lod a better place. I see myriad community centers and safe spaces for children. I see teachers and principals working tirelessly to create a good education for their youth. I see Jews and Arabs trying to work together and young adults striving to better their place in this world. I not only see hope, but I see action and change.
Someone recently told me, “A lost cause means you don’t have enough light on a situation”. In Lod, there is light everywhere.
Do you have any observations about life in Lod, a very unique city in Israel?
Where I am from, every town looks the same - all the houses, the trees, the schools. The designs are different but they give off the same ambiance. Each corner of Lod feels vastly different. The history is shown visibly through the old city with its ancient brick, some areas contain high rise buildings that feel out of place and others are lined with large houses, neatly in a row. The landscape is vastly different in each neighborhood and yet they all complete one another. Lod is as local as it gets - faces at local businesses quickly feel like home, neighbors always say Shalom to one another and the street cats outside your apartment start to feel like distant cousins who weren't asked to come over but always show up.
We're so proud of the work Dana is doing and her thoughtful reflections. Stay tuned for more updates and reflections from our passionate cohort!