This blog post is written by Juliet, a Yahel fellow living in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood in Rishon LeZion.
I have never considered myself to have that “maternal instinct” with babies many women are seemingly blessed with. I love elementary school-aged kids, but when I see a child younger than 5, instead of being overcome with the ovary-opening jitters, I become quite uncomfortable—why won’t the baby stop staring at me? I never thought i would be working in a nursery with young children, yet on Yahel, I found this to be one of my placements. I was extremely nervous, for I had never worked with children this young before, and did not want to accidentally mess up their development as people. When asked why I was going to do with children so young, I jokingly (not jokingly) replied “oh, you know, just keep them alive” with a pained grin.
My time working at the Gan in Ramat Eliyahu has been full of joy and learning. First and foremost: THANK YOU MOM AND DAD. I didn’t think children were easy, and babies are no exception. Yet, there is something really beautiful about working with kids this young. They are pure, untainted, and everything in the world is new to them. The language barrier is not a factor because—guess what—they can’t speak any language! I have really been able to connect with these children just on the basis of showing them my love and care. Every day I go and play with them, just as if I was a kid, too. While we do not speak many words to each other, there is a connection that was able to form. Especially in the times of a pandemic, being able to form these relationships is even more important. Going each day to the gan and seeing 20 joyful children truly makes any doubts I had about working with babies go away—it is a blessing to be a part of their life.
This is the first time Yahel has worked in this gan, and I am honored to be a part of the first group of Yahelniks there! What an amazing opportunity to understand this community on a deeper level: when you are interacting with children born in the past year, one cannot help but think about their future here, and how it can be improved. They will be surrounded by love, but it makes me even more impassioned to help Ramat Eliyahu grow as a whole. I feel that the new projects we are working on here, like Library on Wheels, will benefit these children long after I am gone. This is very reflective of our work as Yahel fellows: we are planting the seeds for long term change, knowing that we most likely will not see the outcomes in our 9-months here.
It is really interesting comparing my experience working with children in America versus in Israel. In the states, kids are treated with the utmost caution: you cannot touch them (even to put sunscreen on!), they expect attention when they cry, and are overall just very fragile. In Israel, however, these kids are used to the rough-and-tumble life. They run around, take some big falls, and get right back up. When a child starts to cry, no one rushes to comfort them or make a big deal out of it. Rather, the child cries for a few minutes, and then forgets whatever upset them and goes on with their day. I really appreciate the way people interact with the kids at the gan, for it will better prepare them to be real people. In my future of working with children, whether they are my own are not, I will bring these lessons with me.
It has also been great working at the gan because of all of the strong women I am surrounded by. Many of the women who I work with have children of their own, and a few are even pregnant. I admire their strength and dedication to working with kids. Every day, they bring all their energy and love to children who are not their own. I have learned so much about what it means to be a strong woman from them. As I continue my time here volunteering, I hope to emulate their passion and strength as much as I can.