Arguing at the Shabbat table, creating English learning games, and learning how to hand wash laundry, are a few highlights of my first week at Yemin Orde Youth Village.
Yemin Orde is located on Mount Carmel across from Kibbutz Nir Etzion- a religious kibbutz, Ein Hod- an Israeli artists village, and Ein Hawd- an Arab village. It is named after British Major General Orde Wingate, a supporter of the Zionist cause who was instrumental in the formation of the IDF.
Volunteering at the Village, we eat every meal with the students we work with. At our first Shabbat here, I made an effort to bond with them at a Friday night meal. Because I’m the only Nativer who speaks Hebrew fluently, the students here can actually talk to me. As it so often happens, the conversation became political. They had asked me why I would never agree to be drafted into the IDF, and after explaining my reasons, they quickly resorted to attacking me. As much as I value a healthy debate, I do not recommend getting into political debates with Israelis about army issues, especially when you are outnumbered three to one. 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.
An additional silver lining of this argument-filled conversation was that it reminded me of my Shabbat table at home, when our Shabbat meals would be characterized by a good, healthy dose of good-natured debates about a variety of subjects, both serious and insignificant (what my dad calls ‘narishkeit’).
Aside from debating Israelis at Shabbat meals, I have been learning Russian from the Russian and Ukrainian students here, and discussing their feelings on the Russia/Ukraine crisis (sadly, it has now turned into a full-blown war). When you hear the perspectives of people whose families are directly impacted by the events, it adds a very real and personal dimension you don’t usually find in these types of conversations. I couldn’t help but engage in these one-of-a-kind discussions.
My previous English tutoring of refugee kids with F.A.I.R has proved valuable here. I use the same methods: Kahoot games, songs, and grabbers to engage the students. No matter what age, I’ve learned that students grasp language best when it is of interest to them. Because we are native English speakers and are close to the students in age, we present them with the unique chance to learn from people they can also relate to, in contrast to their English teachers who are all Isralies with fairly broken English.
It has been intriguing to see the ESL (English as a Second Language) learning process among rudimentary level English speakers in Israel and compare it to the ESL program at my school in Silver Spring. Similar issues arise from not having any English reinforcement at home or among friends, making the process ten-fold more difficult. Because the students speak their own language among each other (whether it be Russian, French, or Amharic), English is rarely spoken outside of class. It was the same problem at Northwood High School – for the Spanish speakers who were learning English. This comfort cushion created by belonging to an insulated group prevents students from fully immersing in the language, a challenge we Nativers hope to tackle through forcing them to speak English in their everyday interactions with us.
The teacher I work with always recites “ta’ut mad’hima,” which translates to “amazing mistake,” whenever a student’s mistake indicates a grasp on the subject, but is still wrong because of how complicated the English language is. For instance, when asked what the word “too” is, one of the students said “le” which is the translation of “to.” Or, another student spelled the word “speak” as “speek” as “ea” and “ee” read the same. I am now applying this phrase to everyday mishaps that present a learning opportunity. Last week, my adjustment to a new environment caused me to be a bit scatterbrained, and I missed the first laundry shift. Instead of despairing and sulking in dirty clothes, I learned how to hand wash my laundry, reciting the ta’ut mad’hima mantra in my head through the process.
Our kitchen worker, Ahmad, lives in Ein Hawd, and I greet him every morning with “sabah al-khayr” (Arabic for good morning). I am grateful that he has helped with the upkeep of the little Arabic I learned at Hebrew University.
In summary, despite an initial culture shock, the high energy, multitude of languages, and scenic views of Yemin Orde are beginning to feel like home.
Stay tuned for the next post to hear about my experiences volunteering with Magen David Adom – Israel’s National Ambulance Service!