I spent about two months in Israel. My volunteer stint involving tutoring English, both in a middle school in south Tel Aviv and to nursing-field students at a youth center in Bat Yam, a smaller city adjacent to Tel Aviv. This turned out to be a really gratifying experience.
I arrived armed with much-less-than-fluent Hebrew, a Hebrew/English dictionary, and Google Translator. The teachers at the middle school turned me on to another helpful language app, Morfix. The kids were fun and generally well-motivated. I worked with the English teachers at the school, and they provided structure and were super-supportive. For the kids, who for the most part had been learning English since grade school, our interaction provided a kind of enrichment and a chance to spend time with a native English speaker from America.
Volunteer Norm meets and shares his tips on English language volunteering to starting volunteer Babette.
Norm with the English Teaching Staff
The nursing-field students in Bat Yam did not have nearly as much English background, having made Aliyah from Ethiopia at ages 10, 12, and 14 and having needed to first learn Hebrew. However, they needed a certain level of English for their school texts and future work. This tutoring was more challenging, as I often had to communicate to a large extent in Hebrew and as the structure of the lessons had to be worked out by tutor and student. However, these students were super-motivated and appeared to really appreciate the opportunity. Skilled Volunteers is hoping to be able to provide future tutoring volunteers for the youth center in Bat Yam.
I lived in in airbnb in the HaTikvah neighborhood of south Tel Aviv. This is a working-class neighborhood with significant populations of Mizrachi Jews, families originally from Russian-speaking countries, and African refugees from Somalia and Eritrea. For me this was a great experience. With little English being spoken, I had to use my Hebrew more, which for me was a big plus. The neighborhood includes the wonderful HaTikvah Shuk, where activity crescendos on Friday afternoon before Shabbat, and small, old Mizrachi synagogues, still in very active use.
Shuk HaTikvah as captured by secrettelaviv.com
My apartment was a brief bus ride to the middle school and a 20-minute bus ride to the youth center in Bat Yam.
Although I did do some touring in Israel for about a week and a half, most of my time there was spent as a non-tourist. I had to learn how and where to buy groceries and how to navigate the bus system (highly recommend the Moovit app). And as Minna, the Central Region Volunteer Coordinator, said to me, riding the buses puts you in close contact with Israeli society. Everyone rides the buses – secular and religious, poor and affluent, Arabs, Africans, soldiers, and more. It was quite commonplace for a young person to offer me their seat on a crowded bus, though with my age denial, I usually politely declined.
My volunteer work was done as part of the Skilled Volunteers Israel from Inside program, and I happily realized that I was indeed living inside Israel and not there as a passive observer.