From the city that never sleeps to the city that never stops…

It is hard to imagine that just three months ago I was sitting in my New York City office staring at my endless excel spreadsheets and counting the hours until the end of each workday. I had yet to find passion in my career and constantly felt that I was missing a key component – making a real difference in a community. Within a 48 hour period I made the decision to quit my job and go out in search of my passion and find a position in which my work was having a real impact on a community. This decision led me to where I am today…

Only two weeks ago I moved to Tel Aviv to participate in Career Israel, a Masa program, in which participants intern at an organization or company in Tel Aviv and the surrounding area. When I was offered the opportunity to join the Jaffa Institute in the Grants department something in my gut told me this would be a perfect fit. Only one week into my time with the Jaffa Institute I already feel that fire and excitement for what is in store for me over the next five months.

On my first day at the Jaffa Institute, my supervisor presented me with an outline of tasks and assignments I would be participating in over the next five months. If I’m being honest the list initially overwhelmed me… how am I to learn all the skills I will need? How will five months be long enough? Will there really be enough time in the day to complete my work? But then I remembered the problem of poverty in the Jaffa and South Tel Aviv community is overwhelming and my ultimate goal is to make a positive difference, no matter how small. Over the next 5 months I hope to help the Jaffa Institute continue to tackle their mission of breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty and gain the skills needed to continue and grow in the non-profit community.

As I start to learn about each of the Jaffa Institute’s 30+ programs, I am awe inspired by the amazing work this organization produces. From the 10 after-school programs to the over 400 bi-monthly food package deliveries to the Welfare to Wellbeing women’s empowerment initiative, it is evident that this organization truly cares for the community and is taking giant steps to end the cycle of poverty.

After spending my first few days learning and understanding the programs in further detail, I was given the opportunity to spend an afternoon volunteering at our Purim Carnival for some of the after-school programs. The carnival started with the kids playing different carnival games, eating carnival snacks (obviously no carnival is complete without popcorn and cotton candy), and getting glitter tattoos and face paint. Afterwards there was some dancing and a magic show. As with every after-school program the Jaffa Institute runs, the children also received a hot meal and snacks to take home at the end of the event. The Hot Meals initiative works to combat the malnutrition amongst the children that participate in the after-school programs, in which 32% of the children regularly go a whole day without eating a nutritious meal.

Even with the language barrier between myself and the children it is obvious how much of an impact the program is making in these children’s lives. Seeing the evident joy on the children’s faces as a result of the work the Jaffa Institute is doing really helped me recognize that it is not just about the numbers or statistics I had been reading about, but it is truly about the impact made on each and every individual reached by the Jaffa Institute’s initiatives.

I know this is just the beginning and cannot express how excited I am to participate and support these initiatives. I cannot wait to see how I can help make a difference here in South Tel Aviv and Jaffa.

Note: Written in the beginning of March 2015.

About the Author
Austin Van Grack is originally from Boulder, CO and is spending five months living in Tel Aviv and working at the Jaffa Institute.
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