Trying to build a career, especially in a country that is not your own, can be extremely challenging. I felt quite lost after completing my MA degree in Conflict Resolution and Mediation at Tel Aviv University. In Israel, where the use of networks (called combinot) is a typical way in Israel to get things done or land jobs; it is all about knowing the right people to get the right job. As newcomer, this social network was exactly what I lacked, and finding a job that I both wanted and paid well seemed impossible.
Eventually, I followed the advice of a friend to intern at The Abraham Fund Initiatives (TAFI), after realizing that pay scale shouldn’t dictate my career choices. This well-established non-profit, driven by its mission to achieve a shared society for Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens, turned out to be a most inspiring place. By hiring both Jewish and Arab staff, and showing mutual respect for each other’s opinions, customs and holidays, TAFI’s staff practice what they preach. Through this internship, I had the unique opportunity to be part of this process.
At my first day, I was welcomed heartily by the staff, after which I was immediately directed into my first staff meeting. This weekly gathering enabled the staff to catch up on each other’s work and to plan future steps, but also to discuss relevant news items or matters of the heart. Although this interaction would sometimes be challenging – despite working on the same mission, opinions differed a lot – I found it of great importance. Not only did Jews and Arabs work together here, but they also listened to each other and tried to learn from one another. Instead of dismissing or ignoring provoking news-items or issues, problems were always being met up front, while taking cultural differences into account.
In addition to this open and honest work environment, TAFI also showed respect and awareness about cultural differences between the Jewish and Arab staff. A good example of such cultural sensitivity at the workspace came up halfway through my internship. After two months of visiting projects, writing blogs, and designing marketing materials, Ramadan had started. This month of fasting was accompanied by numerous special activities and projects, and the organization itself adapted as well. Our daily lunch, usually eaten at a big table in the communal space, now took place in someone’s office where those who were not fasting were huddled together. This token of respect to the fasting employees seems like a small gesture, but is important indeed. Creating a shared society starts, I believe, at the work place, and by doing the things that you advise other people to do, a valuable beginning is made.
Another important aspect of TAFI’s work is to share and expand knowledge about Arab Israeli culture, not only among TAFI’s participants but among TAFI’s staff as well. During Ramadan, for example, TAFI organized tours to Arab towns to introduce journalists, university staff, and others to the Ramadan festivities, and later that month it was our turn as well. We went on a tour in the Arab town of Taybeh, where we were introduced to the city’s history and food and enjoyed a traditional Iftar dinner together. This tour not only gave me a better insight into Arab culture in Israel, but also provided me with a great example of what an internship can give you. Alone, I would never have been able to see and do such things, but because of TAFI I was given the opportunity to explore and learn. By visiting numerous places during my internship, such as the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), Arab schools, and empowering inter-cultural meetings, I got a taste of promising peace projects in the field, and enjoyed many moments of it.
- TAFI’s staff on tour in Taybeh (The Abraham Fund Initiatives)
Now, four months later, it is time to pass on the baton. As I leave, I want to thank everyone at TAFI who has helped me out. This has truly been a great learning experience and I am grateful to those who gave me a hand and a friendly face here.
To all doubting students, recent graduates, and young peacebuilders, I furthermore want to say the following: if you are interested in finding the right job, developing yourself, and working on your career – do an internship. Although it might not give you an adequate salary, it does provide you with most valuable skills for the future. Especially in the Israeli non-profit sector, where the issues in the field are endless, but desirable jobs are scarce, experience is everything. Therefore, interning at a well-established NGO such as TAFI that runs a wide variety of programs and partnerships can have a great impact on your future.
My own career path serves as a good example. After four months of interning, I’m not only leaving TAFI with a great learning experience, but with my dream job as well. In my opinion, this had to do a lot with my time at TAFI. I had familiarized myself with the Israeli non-profit work environment, which can be of value for a future job in the field. Due to the varied and challenging nature of my tasks, I had furthermore developed my reporting, writing and fundraising skills, and I could show my new boss that I possessed a solid base of knowledge. Most importantly, however, I believe that doing an internship says a lot about passion. By dedicating my energy and time to TAFI’s work, I showed that I truly care about working with Israel’s minorities, and that I am motivated to start a career in this field.