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Volunteering With an Open Heart

This week's blog post is written by Eliana, a Yahel fellow in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood in Rishon LeZion.

I decided before I arrived in Israel that I would use learned techniques from my career to acclimate to Israel, its culture and the people that will be with me through this journey. Yes, I have been to Israel and have had vacation experience, but never have I left home to live in another country alone. I learnt that it takes a person roughly 3 months on average to get used to a new environment as well as surroundings. Coming from the United States, Miami to be precise, things are very different; the people, the language, the culture, the food and even just the environmental energy. I mentally prepared myself to be ready for a change, cultural impact, and cultural differences, as well as coming in with an understanding that there will be expectations met and expectations destroyed. However, it's one thing to think of doing things and another to actually do.

Yahel includes trips around Israel. Last weekend the Yahel program took all the fellows camping. In that amazing trip, I learned about people much more than expected. We played games where we spoke to fellows within our locations about topics such as; love, education, family, Shabbat, future, etc. Although, most of us are close, the topics of conversation led to deeper understanding. We spoke to each other one on one which allowed for a deep conversation about fears, worries, excitements and much more. The safe space that the Yahel program/the games provided for each individual to get to know each other in a different manner allowing for more understanding of different individuals. What I expected and what reality has become, intertwines with one another. Adapting to my new surroundings has been a challenge in ways that will make me grow.

People in the program as well as the community have surprised me with kindness, lessons, understanding and have and will continue gifting me with growth. Settling in has been an adventure from place to place, living off a luggage and meeting fellows from all over the world. Experiencing new culinary cuisines, learning a new language and immersing in different cultures and different backgrounds. Within the first few weeks of the program I learnt different ways of approaching situations, became more patient with myself and others, grew and still growing in self-care, physical care, spiritual understanding and balance and social environments that differ from mine.

The different traditions within Judaism, different cultures and different religious practices showed me that no matter how different we perspective a person, religion or tradition that they are all in some way connected. In minimal actions that I have done so far such as celebrating Indian festivals, learning about Ethiopian traditions, Israeli cultures, etc. truly opened up my mind in so many ways. Different views and positive aspects in this program were made possible to me, I would not have been exposed to a heap of differences otherwise.

I would describe this experience as a blind fold slowly coming off my eyes giving me a fresh breath of air. There is no one size fits all when it comes down to people, place, traditions and perspectives. One aspect that can and will always get me through difficulties, I have realized is making yourself accountable when it comes to time management, actions, choice as well as doing my part to show respect for the fellows, my roommates, every individual, every perspective, tradition and stay curious to want to learn more. Every person, place, tradition, culture comes with a story. In adapting to change the question is are we willing to listen? I'm looking forward to growing and adapting further in the next couple of months and grateful for each experience coming my way.


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