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Making a Difference in the Negev

Updated: Apr 3

How many people do you know who actually seize the moment and go off on the adventure they always wanted to have?  Well, add Kala and Jim Paul to the list….and they say it would not have happened without the help and direction of Skilled Volunteers for Israel.

With the enthusiasm of the early Zionist pioneers, this New Jersey couple set off for Israel in early February and spent nearly six weeks helping improve the conversational English of children and adults in their MetroWest Federation partner community of Ofakim and the recognized Bedouin community of Segev Shalom.

“We always wanted to do something like this — give something back, make a difference, connect with the land and the people. We’ve been to the tourist sites. Now we wanted to form a living bridge with communities in Israel,” explained Kala.

And they wanted to do it in the Negev.

The Pauls arranged their volunteer experience with the help of Tal Morag and Noga Maliniak, Federation staff in Israel, The Jewish Agency, a Federation overseas partner agency, and through Skilled Volunteers for Israel who coordinated the volunteer assignments between the two communities and specifically focused on working to secure a placement  in the Bedouin community.  Kala shared that Skilled Volunteers for Israel played a crucial role in helping the Paul’s dream of volunteering in Israel become a reality “We appreciated having so much help getting a plan in order and making the connections.  We especially appreciated the corporation and collaboration between the Federation staff and the Skilled Volunteers for Israel team.”

JIm and Kala Paul with Tal Morkovsky, Metrowest Israel Federation staff

The Pauls have been to the Negev, and specifically Ofakim, many times as members of Federation’s Legow Israel Family Program Center’s P2G program and Israel and Overseas Committee. They felt it was the “natural place for them to be,” the place where they could make the biggest difference.

“We have friends we’ve met here and it’s our sister community,” said Jim. “Personally, it’s great to be able to get to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem when I want, but I don’t really feel a connection. In the Negev, there’s a sense of growth and change. Teaching English to both Jewish and Arab children just felt right, because speaking English is a skill these children will need to be successful.”

On Mondays and Wednesdays, the Pauls’ full days began at 8 a.m., when they worked with third-sixth graders at HaGivah School in Ofakim. Monday afternoons were spent with yeshiva students preparing to take the English Bagrut (high school matriculation exam).

Evenings found them at “Café Anglit” where they ate dinner and talked with four adults who wanted to improve their spoken English. Two of the women will be coming to the U.S. for yoga teacher training this summer; one man was a member of last summer’s Bonim B’Yachad (Building Together) project in Union Beach. The other woman was getting ready to address AIPAC in Washington D.C., and, the couple reported proudly, delivered her speech perfectly.

Teaching English at Ha Giva School, Ofakim

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Kala and Jim worked with elementary school students in Segev Shalom. The connection came through Greater MetroWest’s hosting of the Bedouin teacher who won the Teacher of the Year Award in Israel. “We found stickers, songs, and fun kept all the children engaged in both schools,” they said.

It was tiring but worthwhile. “All of it came back to us in ways in we couldn’t have expected. We were there for a purpose, we achieved something, and we got a lot back from it,” said Kala. Before leaving, the students at HaGiva presented Kala and Jim with a book of letters they had written.  Such a gift was not only heartfelt but demonstrated the students’ connection to and appreciation of Jim and Kala’s time on their behalf.

The Pauls know that not everyone can simply decide to go off for almost six weeks. And in some ways, they surprised themselves, considering that their connection to Ofakim only began in 2010.

“Before all this, we had been very peripheral to Federation. We donated money but never really got actively involved in any of the programs. And now we are. It’s been an experience — the word I use is ‘rich.’ The richness of our connections is priceless. And we hope that our experience is an inspiration for others,” concluded Kala.

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