This week's blog post is written by Lev, a Yahel fellow living in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood in Rishon LeZion.
While the start of the Yahel fellowship may have burdened by Covid-19 restrictions I have been fortunate to settle into three volunteer placements in the Ramat Eliyahu community. My week is divided between working one-on-one with students with learning disabilities at a local Junior high, conducting grant research and fundraising at the Israel Center for Education Innovation, and volunteering at a local youth after-school club, Yesh Matzav. Between these three placements, I engage with every level of the communal movement to stimulate long-term social mobility through academic achievement; to solidify the culturally rich Ethiopian community’s place in Israel as future leaders of the nation.
Two weeks ago, I began working at one of Ramat Eliyahu’s youth clubs, Yesh Matzav. The name of this haven is representative of the gap it fills in the day-to-day routines of local teens; “There Is a Pathway”. Youth come for a myriad of reasons: to cook dinner with their friends, play video games, do homework, or just soak in the essence of community that one feels the moment they enter the courtyard. From the worn in pingpong tables, to the communal dinner area, to the small yet fully stocked kitchen, Yesh Matzav seems to be the perfect place to cultivate a safe community for teens who face extreme forms of disenfranchisement and discrimination. They are stuck between two worlds; shunned by the broader Jewish community for “antiquated” Judaic heritage, yet raised to cherish their ancestor’s cultural practices. At Yesh Matzav, these meta-social issues fade away. Teens get the opportunity to feel comfortable, safe, and at home.
While walking with three 10th graders from Yesh Matzav to a local basketball court, we passed by a large muzzled German Shepard walking with its owner in the opposite direction. The dog jumped out towards us causing the owner to pull back on the leash. The teens jumped up into the bushes lining the sidewalk to avoid the potential danger. The owner began to apologize profusely. I strolled casually by. Later that night I reflected on those few transitional moments, focusing on the problematic juxtaposition. I realized that the teens saw the dog coming towards them and anticipated confrontation. The history of large dogs being a tool of aggression towards folks of color is raw, traumatic, and ongoing. The interaction, and my lack of awareness to the potential danger, is revealing of a stark contrast between many Yahel fellows and the Ramat Eliyahu youth. While I am the foreigner, the color of my skin awards me the privilege of comfort and safety; I am able to enter this culturally rich yet struggling neighborhood and simply live without worry of physical harm or submission to discrimination. The youth in this community are not awarded such benefits. When in public, they know when to act with caution; the color of their skin voids them of innocence in the eyes of many of their fellow Israelis. The perpetual systemic discrimination validates the essential nature of safe spaces like Yesh Matzav. While I know the I will not be the one to fix this broken system, I am honored to get the chance to help relieve some of the pressure on local leaders through volunteer work and create friendships with local teens through simple enjoyable activities. Partaking in the fellowship is a blessing and a privilege.
Last week, we had a break from volunteering. I bought a cheap tent, gathered together some essential items (jacket, hummus, and cucumbers) and trekked down to Maktesh Ramon to hike around the largest crater in the Negev. This adventure renewed my thirst for exploration and set the tone for the upcoming months. I plan to make the most of this incredible opportunity. Taking a deep breath, this journey is just beginning.