This summer (2016), I came to Jerusalem to study and volunteer. My volunteer assignment was in a learning center in a working class Jerusalem neighborhood where I volunteered three afternoons a week for five weeks.
Katherine, (left) at Merkaz Klass. Volunteer, Ellen (right), starts her second year of volunteering at the Center
I was assigned to work with elementary school age children. To get their attention during the hot summer months I wanted to use “play” to connect with them. The Center lacked playground equipment, so I started off by playing “Catch” – Tofeset – with a balled up sheet of paper, and to my surprise, it worked pretty well!
I described in my Ulpan Hebrew class how I was using “Catch” to engage the children in the difficult task of learning English. Upon hearing my story, a classmate brought me a young child’s version of a soccer ball—soft and squishy. She had found it abandoned on the street the morning after the Euro Cup championship game in early July.
The found soccer ball really bumped up my game. Most of the elementary school aged children I met with were second generation Ethiopian Israelis, speaking Amharic in their homes and Hebrew in school. English, as a third language was extra challenging for them, but so essential to their later success in school and in a career.
As the school year was coming to a close as I was beginning my volunteer assignment, the children did not want to sit for their study sessions. So I used catch to practice pronunciation and counting. It turns out Israeli children have a lot of difficulty pronouncing the number “three”. It’s just too many consonants piled together forming a sound not found in Hebrew. We also practiced prepositions like “throw the ball under the table” and “throw the ball between your legs”. And we tried out adverbs like “throw high” “throw low,” learning “fast, slow, soft, hard — the list goes on. We laughed a lot. The children learned a little English. I may actually have learned more Hebrew than they learned English, but they worked at it. Most importantly, I hope they learned that learning can be fun.
Katherine K, July 2016, Connecticut