This week's blog post is written by Vaishnavi, a fellow living in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood in Rishon LeZion.
If I had a Shekel for every time someone asked me what am I, “a complete outsider”, doing in Israel, I would have enough to buy a huge packet of Bamba (which I will probably enjoy later while sitting by my big apartment window, overlooking the festivities at the synagogue). Strangely enough, I neither had a compelling answer to this question before I came, nor do I have one after spending about three months in a tiny neighbourhood of a city that I had not even heard of before applying to this fellowship.
I would be lying if I said this wasn’t one of my biggest apprehensions before setting out on this unique journey. Being a non-Jewish Indian participant, my head was clouded with thoughts like what if nobody relates with me, how will I fit in my placements, how will I talk to anybody since the only Hebrew I knew before coming here was “Shalom”. At that point, I just hoped for the best and made strategies of how I can be a good volunteer despite being an “outsider”. To my surprise however, perhaps the only time I actually felt like I was a foreigner in an unknown land was on my connecting flight to Tel Aviv. Soon as I boarded the flight full of Israelis, I was hit with the realisation that I will be in a completely different place, far far away from everything I know and understand, far away from my loved ones, and there was no going back.
Indeed everywhere I look and everything I see I can’t help but spot the differences which are not so difficult to find. The houses look different, people here eat, behave, pray, dress, and speak differently, they have a shared history as a community that I can only ever read about but never fully understand. And yet, the more time I spend here, the more I relate with their dreams and aspirations; their stories of conflict, and discrimination remind me of my own, and their struggles resonate with mine. Every time the kids from my after-school placement at an elementary school run towards me with beaming smiles while screaming “NAVI”, I am reminded of the kids I worked with back home. I help them in their Maths or sometimes even Hebrew homework, organise activities for them to learn English, and play games which I barely understand the rules of despite them trying to explain it to me every time- not so different from what I used to do!
We are living in a world that compels us to think in terms of “us vs. them”, which disable us from looking past the obvious differences. So it is upon us to remind ourselves of our humanity which binds us together with each and every person in the world, rendering all other labels insignificant. My neighbours who give me delicious Ethiopian food for Shabbat, my Australian roommate who asks me about my festivals so she can celebrate them with me, my Argentinian fellow who relates with my jaywalking adventures from India, and my director and coordinator who teach me more about Israel and make me feel at home are perfect examples of this.
If living in a country that I am in no way related to has taught me something, it is that differences among us human beings are more often than not overplayed. Perhaps one of my biggest learnings from here would be that forming human connections don’t necessarily need us to be the exact same. All they need is the right intention, a little effort, and lots of love.