Sunday, January 18, 2009

After leaving Nazareth Illit but before beginning the next part of Otzma in my partnership city I spent two weeks at the Pardes Institute for Jewish Learning in Jerusalem. This was a very beneficial experience for me because I was given the opportunity to study and learn Jewish texts in a pluralistic learning environment. We were able to learn in Chevruta or paired style learning. It was very eye opening to be able to hear other people’s opinions on the different topics and issues that were brought up through the text study and class discussions. At the end of this exciting learning experience we discussed ways in which to bring this text study into our year long volunteer program through the use of stories and values learned. It is my plan to use the different values and lessons from my two week learning experience to enhance my volunteering experience in my partnership city.
Due to the current situation in the south of Israel the plan that I had of living and volunteering in Ofakim and only coming to volunteer in my own partnership city of Arad two days a week was changed. I am now going to be living and volunteering in Arad full time. I am very happy with the change because from the very beginning I have wanted to come to Arad full time and now I am given the opportunity. Arad also took in the group of Otzma participants who were supposed to be in Kiryat Malachi and is giving them a temporary home until they are able to go back to their original plan. I am very proud that the partnership of Arad/Tamar was able to take in my fellow participants in this time of war in the south.
The second part of my Otzma experience began over a week ago when I moved into the partnership apartment in Arad with my friend Ilene Bloom from Delaware. I am now living and working in Arad which is the New Jersey/Delaware partnership city. I have been welcomed into Arad with open arms and have been given many choices of places to volunteer thanks to Ofra and the rest of the partnership. After seeing all of the options I have chosen to volunteer at three different locations. Four mornings a week I am volunteering at a local elementary school, Ye'elim-Ofarim, teaching English in the Kindergarten and first grade. Two afternoons a week I am volunteering at an afternoon program for teen girls, whose purpose is to keep them safe and off the street. At this placement I serve as a mentor and help the girls with whatever it is they need. Teaching them English is one thing that I have already started to do there but I look forward to starting to work with them on other things as well. The other two afternoons a week I am working in the Ethiopian absorption center. One of the two days I do activities with the kindergarten age children and the other day I work one on one with a boy who is half blind. All of these places are ones that I feel I can truly make a difference in and gain a lot from in return.
In addition to the wonderful beginning of volunteering in Arad I have also been able to be a part of the partnership program with Ben Gurion University and Rutgers University which is a program that is striving to give eye glasses to all the elderly who need them in the Arad/Tamar region. To start this program a group of young adults were taken into the Ein Tamar region to a special night of activity. It was a great opportunity for me to feel connected to the partnership and at the same time meet other young adults my age from the area. I look forward to being able to continue to be a part of this and other partnership sponsored programs in the region.
While in Arad I have also had the opportunity to start to explore the area of Arad/Tamar on my own. I have been able to go down to the Dead Sea and see hot water springs as well as explore the lovely desert that Arad is a part of. It is a true privilege to be a part of this community and to be giving back to the community as part of Otzma and as part of the New Jersey/Delaware partnership. I am very excited about what is to come as my time in Arad continues.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

P2K Update--January 2009

It is with very mixed feelings that I am sending out this update on the status of our P2K community. Like many Israelis, I feel personally affected by the current conflict in southern Israel. Last Thursday, Arad lost one of its own sons when 23 year old Captain Omer Rabinovitch was killed in action in Gaza. Leadership from the Partnership made a shiva visit to his family, and learned that he had been accepted into JAFI’s Shlichut (Emissary) Program and Officer Training School. He felt that he would be better prepared to be an emissary after his experience as an officer in the Army. And so, their loss extends to us. May they know no further sorrow.

But we also have positive things to report. Mayor Gidon Bar Lev and the Municipality of Arad brought over 350 children and adults from the towns and kibbutzim that have been in the line of fire to Arad. The students are studying with their teachers, along side the Arad children. Over $20,000 has been raised from the citizens to cover housing costs for them, and we have committed to help with matching funds. We all hope that the conflict will be resolved soon, but it is so wonderful that the children have a safe place to be now, away form their shelters, the noise and pressure, and can study in peace and quiet.

Another bright light is our new Vision project. Professor Richard Israelowitz of Ben Gurion University has begun an exciting project that brings a mobile vision program to Arad and Tamar for the elderly and others. Students and staff from Rutgers University and Ben Gurion will work together to identify potential clients, examine them for glaucoma and other eye problems, and provide glasses and other appropriate remedies. Aside from helping older adults lead more active lives, this project brings together students and professionals from two universities, and familiarizes them with our special partnership. Our hope is that other programs that deal with social issues, such as substance abuse or domestic violence, can also be developed or replicated in Arad, thereby providing additional services to the city.

I can also brag that my 84 year old Mom, Naomi, who created a the AACI Library for the Visually Impaired in Jerusalem, has joined the project in Arad and is bringing her program of free books on tape for them and help expand the services (Which can be shipped free to the Library through the US Postal Service- I will send info on how to do that for those of you who have books on tape that you can send).

The ultimate goal of Partnership 2000 is to connect Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora in meaningful ways. Another new initiative of the Partnership is Eco-Connections, where classes in Israel, New Jersey and Delaware meet via the internet and connect through the study of the environment within a Jewish context. Already, three classes in Arad and Tamar have committed to participate and we are just finalizing which classes will participate from the states.

Our Living Bridge programs are gaining more and more interest as growing numbers of people participate. We are thrilled to have two OTZMA students living in Arad for two months and look forward to welcoming a contingent of volunteers from Central New Jersey to the region in March. We will again begin recruiting for our Kefiada program which sends six young adults to the region to be English language camp counselors. In turn, the region sends Israeli counselors to our camps through our Ivriada program. These counselors have home hospitality and form bonds with the families that last long after they return home. Similarly, our Maccabiah program brings Israeli athletes from the region to compete in our JCC Maccabiah games.

As you can tell, I am passionate about the Partnership and its potential. I invite you to join me and get involved in it. For more information, visit our blog at and find links to many Partnership sites.


Sivia Braunstein
P2K Chair