Sunday, February 22, 2009

Energy Experts come to Arad

Last week, Ofra, Workit, Ilene and I all met with a group of people visiting Arad on an Energy Experts Seminar through the American Jewish Committee. We met the group at the Inbar hotel and spoke to them about the partnership, Arad and ourselves during dinner. Ofra started the evening by giving an overview of the partnership and all that the partnership does. She also explained who Workit, Ilene and I are and how we are connected to the partnership. When Ofra was finished Workit spoke about herself and the work she does in the Ethiopian community of Arad through the Ethiopian youth center, Tzelty. The group was very interested in her aliah story and about the different culture that she comes from. Ilene and I spoke about Otzma and the role that we play with the partnership as part of our program. We also spoke about the different places that we are volunteering and the way that we are making connections in Arad. Once we all spoke we opened it up for questions from the group. The group had many questions and it was very satisfying to be able to be the ones to answer their questions. When we left the group after dinner it was a feeling of success in that we were really able to inform this group about the partnership and the different types of activities that it is a part of in order to bridge the gap between American Jews and Israelis.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

It has been about a month since I first arrived in Arad, Delaware’s Partnership 2000 city as a participant on OTZMA. At the time, the situation in Gaza had escalated to the point where the Israeli Army to defend the citizens living in the south of Israel from the daily Hamas rocket attacks. During this stressful time for Israel, I, like all Israelis, continued to live as much of a normal life as possible. I received emails and phone calls from family and friends asking if I was coming home. I appreciated their concern, however I knew that coming home was not an option. My fellow Otzma participants and I felt it was more important to stand strong behind Israel and our sister city communities in the south during this difficult time.

Since the cease-fire, many participants in my program, including myself, have moved back to their partnership cities. This week I will be participating in a seminar focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We will be spending time in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and most importantly Sderot. In Sderot we will be spending time speaking with citizens about their experiences and looking at the aftermath in Gaza and Sderot.

In addition to spending time learning more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I have been spending a lot of time volunteering in Arad. As soon as I arrived in Arad I felt at home. I have been volunteering three mornings per week at the high school helping to prepare the students for the English Begrut (the exams that Israeli high school students have to pass in order to graduate). The teachers there are so welcoming. The 12th grade English teacher, Bela, even gives me a goody bag each week. In addition to the friendly staff, I have really enjoyed helping the students gain confidence speaking English while getting to know about their lives in Arad. Another volunteering placement that I have really enjoyed is Biet Giladi, Arad’s senior day center. There, the elderly come together for two meals a day and an abundance of activities such as exercise class, singing, gardening, and bingo. I have been teaching conversational English and computer skills to a group of eager members and enjoying card games over coffee and tea. The most rewarding part of volunteering at Biet Giladi is the warm people with whom I get to share a little bit of their day while practicing my Hebrew and hearing the many stories that compose their lives. It is a really amazing to be a part of an organization that provides friendship and a community for many senior citizens of Arad, who, without this program, would be spending most days alone.

While I have spent most of my time in Arad volunteering with amazing organizations, one of my highlights thus far was when my alma mata, the University of Delaware, made a trip to Arad during UD’s annual Hillel taglit-birthright trip. We spent the morning catching up while beautifying the outside of the new young adult center/partnership offices for the upcoming dedication ceremony. We sanded the fence, trimmed the bushes, cleared the weeds, and planted a small flower garden. We all enjoyed helping out our sister city while Ofra Nathan Bezalel, the Living bridge Coordinator, talked about the connection between Delaware and Arad. She discussed potential opportunities for students to participate in Living bridge programs between Arad and Delaware. If you are interested in learning about these opportunities, you can check out, or for more information on OTZMA go to Overall, it was a great experience for me to show Arad to some friends from home and share how meaningful my time volunteering with OTZMA has been.

As the month of January comes to an end and I look back on my experiences thus far, I know that OTZMA has already given an experience that I will be forever grateful for. As the program continues, I look forward to strengthening my relationships within Arad because I know that as much as I can give to Arad, I am receiving so much more in return.


Official Arad Partnership office opening

The official opening of the new offices for the partnership in Arad took place February 2, 2009. The new offices are located in a building that has been renovated and turned into a beautiful young adult center for the people of Arad. This project was able to be completed because of the support of the Ness Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. Eleanor Rubin came as a representative of the Ness Foundation and Stanley Stone, the Executive director, and other lay leaders came as representatives of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. It was a true pleasure to be able to watch as Mrs. Rubin, Stanley Stone and other Central New Jersey representatives stood alongside the mayor of Arad, Gideon Bar Lev, and unveiled the new sign on the front of the young adult center. The sign is a small symbol of the generosity of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey toward the city of Arad. This generosity was greatly appreciated. After the sign outside was revealed the mayor had the privilege of hanging the Mezuzah on the door of the young adult center before everyone entered and the celebration began. Many different people gave their words of thanks and their visions for this new center. Specifically, the mayor, Gideon Bar Lev, stated how having this center is another way to have the young adults of the community stay in Arad. He truly believes that they are the future of the community. We were also privileged to hear the teenagers from the Ethiopian youth center in Arad perform their musical talents. A member of the young adult center, Ortal Saragani, also sang for the group with her lovely voice. A beautiful PowerPoint presentation was shown to display all of the wonderful things that are going on in Arad and the Tamar region due to the efforts of the partnership. At the end an incredible dinner was served and all that were present really enjoyed themselves and were proud to be a part of the momentous occasion of dedicating this center.

Monmouth Delegation

The Arad-Tamar partnership is very excited to be sending a group of sixteen and seventeen year old students over to Monmouth County, New Jersey. This mission is something that started a few years ago and continues because of its importance for both the Israelis and Americans involved. This year the group of teenagers will be accompanied on the mission by Ofra who is the living-bridge coordinator of the partnership. While in Monmouth County the teens will be hosted by families from local synagogues who also have teenagers the same age. The Israelis will be partaking in the synagogue and religious school activities as well as going with the host teenager to their local public school to talk about themselves and living in Israel in English. This is a great example of the way that the partnership fosters the living bridge and having Americans and Israelis meet one another.

University of Delaware Hillel Birthright Winter 2009

The University of Delaware Hillel came to Arad last week as part of their ten day Israel experience. The group came to volunteer in their partnership community as they usually do on their birthright trips. This time the group came to the new partnership offices in order to help make the landscape in front of the youth center, where the offices are, more appealing. When they arrived all the participants received Arad-Tamar partnership t-shirts and got right to work on planting flowers. While working hard outside the group got to meet other American youth who are spending time in Arad. The people they met were all part of a group called Otzma which is a long term Jewish Agency volunteer program. They were able to talk about Arad and all that the partnership and Israel have to offer as well as the many opportunities that these birthright participants will have to come back to Israel and to help in their partnership communities. The Otzma group is a great example of this as most of them are birthright alumni. After all the fun work of planting was done the birthright participants along with the Otzma group headed inside for a traditional Israeli lunch of falafel with the partnership staff. At this time the partnership director, Shimon, spoke to the group and explained to them more about the partnership and all it has to offer. When lunch was over the group was able to leave happily knowing that they left their mark in the land of Arad and their partnership.