This morning, on the way to the Takhana Merkazit, תחנה מרכזית , the Central Bus Station, two Israelis asked me for directions to the Rakevet Kalah רכבת קלה, the Light Rail that runs through Jerusalem.
I answered them in Hebrew. “Go to the corner, turn right. It’s really close.” They thanked me and proceeded to their destination. I am not a stranger in a strange land.
I came to Israel for one month to have a taste of Israeli life: work, play, friendship, and new experiences. SKILLED VOLUNTEERS FOR ISRAEL created the framework for this experience.
My volunteer assignments include one week at the YMCA Day Camp. This unique English speaking day camp includes Palestinian, Israeli, and kids from all over the world. It’s fairly typical in its daily schedule: games, swimming, arts and crafts, drumming. You get the picture. However, most of the campers (aged 5-12) don’t speak English fluently. Special counselors speak Arabic, Hebrew, and English. All campers have instant translators for their language and their culture. I loved being with these adorable kids.
I was the camp song leader. I taught them YMCA, with appropriate camp I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. Architect, spine surgeon, football player (with a back-up plan), teacher, principal, are a few of their dreams.
Last night, Nina (my hostess) and I had dinner with the new Director of the YMCA, Amos Gil. He and Nina are close friends. He’s been in this position for just over two month. I asked him what he hoped to achieve at the ‘Y’. First, he reflected on the ‘Y’s unique history. Since it’s inception, its goal was to serve three faiths. Cross-cultural concerts were presented in their fabulous theatre. Amos wants to reinvigorate the ‘Y’ as a multi-cultural center in Jerusalem. He hopes to bring speakers from all faiths and create opportunities for dialogue, not with the ‘enemy’ but with ‘partners’. He wants to change the language from opposition to collaboration. He is just the man for the job.
MELABEV is my second volunteer position. MELABEV is a Memory Center for individuals with Altzheimers. This is a unique social setting for people who gradually become more isolated as the disease progresses. I’m bringing them music.
I sing with three different groups: high, middle, and low. My repertoire includes songs from the American Songbook, American folk songs, Hebrew/Israeli, Yiddish, and Ladino favorites. (They’re my favorites, actually!)
I’m using similar repertoire for all three levels. This past week, I wanted to tell HISTORY OF JEWISH MUSIC. I shared this program with Marsha, the Director. She suggested some minor changes. I started with This Land Is Your Land. I said that G-d promised to bring Abraham to a new land. Eretz Zavat Khalav was next. This land would flow with milk and honey.
Music remains alive when current memory fails. For people who are no longer able to speak, sometimes they can sing.
My third volunteer opportunity is at East Talpiot Retirees Club, a (Hebrew speaking) Community . Many of them are my age. I asked Gittit, their Director, if they had a tof (Israeli drum). She said no, but showed me where their rhythm instruments resided. I sing primarily in Hebrew. This past week was really special. When I sang one song, a woman started to sing another song, I didn’t know. She continued to sing and I accompanied her on guitar. Then two other women began to sing another song. This is the kind of engagement I love. I taught them a few new songs. There was dancing, and rhythm and laughter. It was wonderful.