Last summer I knew I wanted to spend the summer in Israel. However, here I was a mature woman in my 50’s, a New York City Department of Education teacher of English as a Second Language as well as Reading, English and History. Every Israel volunteer summer program I found was geared to young people in their 20’s and 30’s.
My tenacious personality would not give up, and I e-mailed every summer program asking about programs for the more mature adult. Low and behold I received an e-mail from a woman named Marla Gamoran. After a long day of teaching incarcerated youth in East New York, I arranged to meet Marla at a rather “yuppy” restaurant on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. We made an immediate connection, and discussed her volunteer program, Skilled Volunteers for Israel and the option to both volunteer and study at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
I enrolled in the Conservative Yeshiva and enrolled for Ulpan in the morning, leaving my afternoons free to volunteer as an English tutor. I was placed at an afternoon learning center that serves a neighborhood dominated by Ethiopian children.
On my first day of volunteering, Marla accompanied me on the city bus to Merkaz Kagan. The minute I walked into Merkaz Kagan, I knew I was home. Yehudit, the Center’s Coordinator, greeted me. Yehudit is a very special person and she has run the educational center for the last 30 years. So, my volunteer saga began- spending a wonderful afternoon of teaching English to children from Ethiopia. I was embraced by the staff and students with love, warmth and appreciation.
On my last day of my teaching at Merkaz Kagan, a little girl, named Ester, gave me a beautiful poster saying, “I love you, Susan” and she made me a goodbye party. A piece of me cried.
I pray that I can return home, not just to Jersualem, the home of all Jews, but to Merkaz Kagan and to my students who I was so blessed to teach this summer.
Susan Kramer with Kagan Coordinator, Yehudit Bar Zemer