As I wrap up my experience at Yemin Orde, I remember how it started. During my first Shabbat here, as an effort to bond at a Friday night meal, I naively started up a conversation in Hebrew with three veteran Yorde students and “shinshinim” (Israeli’s doing a year of service, termed a Shnat Sherut, before their army service). This conversation quickly resorted to an aggressive political debate. Despite the slight tension of the debate, it did indeed create a bonding experience: one of the students later asked if I could tutor him one-on-one to improve his English.
Indeed, this little anecdote was a harbinger to my Yemin Orde experience. One of my favorite phrases–for which almost everyone makes fun of me–is getting comfortable being uncomfortable. But as cliche as it is- this is exactly what I’ve done at Yemin Orde. This first encounter gave me the confidence to share with my students American ideals of activism and values of tolerance, equality, and coexistence. One class period where the teacher was late, I found myself in a debate 6 on 1, yet not shying away. Bringing this perspective to my students was not only a challenge to myself but also an imperative eye opener for these students who live in a closed-information bubble.
Volunteering at Yemin Orde has pushed me out of my comfort zone. It taught me effective teaching and communicating skills, and helped me appreciate what every student and culture has to offer. With the Russian and Ukrainian students, I have discussed their feelings about the war, how sanctions directly affect their lives, how they perceive Putin, and how much they want this terrible war to end. With all my students, I have become genuinely inspired by their various passions, ranging from music producing, reading novels, farming, tweeting, and feminism. Students have asked me to follow them on SoundCloud (a music production app), told me about their work on the Meshek (farm), shared with me the books they are reading, confided with me their disappointment at chauvinistic practices in the village, etc.
Because the students speak their own language among each other (whether Russian, French, or Amharic), English is rarely spoken outside of class. This comfort cushion created by belonging to an insulated group prevents students from fully immersing in the language. Here is where Nativ “came to the rescue.” As native English speakers, we have helped them bring English into their everyday lives. And I’m sure they felt the benefit of infusing English into everyday interactions – even a simple “what’s up” brought many of the students sheer excitement.
I have also learned the power of personal encouragement and instilling confidence in students. Numerous students who began the year uninterested in learning have ended these few months eager to stay after class and finish a test or assignment. One student, Amichi, used to come to class late every day. By the end of my time working with him, he would ask to finish the page before we took a break without my asking him to do so- a significant accomplishment!
I have also learned much from the students at Yemin Orde. They have corrected my Hebrew, taught me about their own cultures, explained to me about the army and mechina process, have entertained discussions about every possible subject under the sun–Judaism, politics, TV, slapping at Oscar ceremonies, you name it… It has created such a vibrant space for me at Yemin Orde.
In addition to expanding my horizons at the Yemin Orde high school, I gained much from living at Yemin Orde and meeting the staff and all the people whose work supports this endeavor. I love greeting our kitchen workers Ahmad and Mamita every morning, who let me come to breakfast early before it opened up for the rest of the village every time I had a MADA shift.
Ben Gurion once said, “Ours is a country built more on people than on territory. The Jews will come from everywhere: from France, from Russia, from America, from Yemen… Their faith is their passport.” Ben Gurion would have been euphoric at the community created at Yemin Orde.
I am leaving Yemin Orde with greater understanding of Israeli youth mindsets, an enriched toolbox of skills and experiences, and with the hope that I have made a positive contribution to the students’ lives. I wish everyone great success.