Young Ambassadors Update: Day 8

21 Jun

Yesterday was an amazing day filled with several lessons that I will never forget. Rachel and I started the day with our host families. They greeted us with smiles and a cheery ‘Boker tov.” The girl who was Rachel’s age, named Yuval, along with the rest of her family spoke very basic English. Communication was difficult but they taught me Hebrew and we taught them some more English. For breakfast, or Aruchat Boker as I have come to learn, we had Kariot (chocolate filled cereal; the word Kariot translates to pillows). After breakfast, we met the rest of the Young Ambassadors and some of the Israeli teens at their Youth Center. We all boarded the bus and made our way to Jerusalem.

Our first stop was Shalva. In the morning it functions as a daycare for children with special needs, and after school it shifts gears to accommodate people as old as 21. As we entered the building, I immediately noticed the sudden surge of happiness. The main room is decorated with bright colors and Disney characters that make the environment extremely welcoming After listening to a brief introduction on some of the life changing experiences they offer to families, we began the tour. (Fun fact: Shalva is 25% funded by the government and 75% funded by donations. Families that send their children to Shalva don’t pay a dime.) We began the tour by looking in on a therapy room. This room looks like a plush wonderland full of water-beds and sensory tables. There was a child in the room when we viewed it and, I have to be honest, I have never seen a child so relaxed. After viewing the therapy room we saw the playground and remaining facilities; we then moved on to my favorite part of the morning, playing with the babies.

When we walked into the playroom, I sat down next to a little girl who was by herself. I said “shalom” with a smile on my face and expected little to no response due to the age of these children (most of them were about 2). I was extremely surprised when the little girl jumped up and gave me a huge hug. She then grabbed my thumb with her hand and shook it furiously. Besides the clear excitement that was instilled in a majority of the children, this particular little girl never stopped smiling. After about 5 minutes of playing with me, she decided that it was time to branch out and go meet other people; one of the Israeli girls, Rotem, later told me of how this little girl went up to her and shook her hand. After about another 5 minutes of walking around, I stumbled across a little girl with glasses. Her name is Tehilah. I sat down next to Tehilah and extended my hand. I was greeted with a giant hug which was followed by her stroking my hair. I then stood up and asked her if she wanted to dance; I held out my arms and she motioned for me to pick her up. The moment I had her in my arms, the biggest smile appeared on her face. I began twirling her around and singing a strange made up song that she loved. 10 minutes passed and I did not want to leave. I put Tehilah on the ground and gave her a giant hug. She then gave me a kiss on the cheek and I almost started crying. One of the Israeli girls names Sivaan said something that stuck with me, “it doesn’t matter what language they speak or if they are disabled or normal, if you give them love that’s all that matters.”
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Soon after leaving my new favorite person (Tehilah), we moved on to meet Yossi Samuels, the reason Shalva was started. Yossi was born a perfectly healthy baby boy and his parents could not have been happier. However, due to a batch of defective vaccines, Yossi became deaf, blind and hyperactive. Apart from not being able to see or hear anyone, he is an extraordinary man. He communicates by having his aid, Alesha, signs into his hand using Hebrew sign language. Adam got to shake Yossi’s hand and by doing that he began a conversation. They spoke about cars and iPhones for about 5 minutes. Yossi then told us how much he loves his job as a wine taster and informed us of his favorite wine, Shiraz. After meeting Yossi, all of us boarded the bus and made our way to the second destination of the day: Hand-in-Hand.

Hand-in-Hand is one of those amazing things that until you see it, you don’t think it is real. Hand-in-Hand is a school going from pre-school to 12th grade that has both Arab and Israeli students of all faiths (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc.) I did not think that a school like this would function so smoothly. The school teaches the students Arabic and Hebrew, has all of the signs in both languages and also has several posters promoting peace and acceptance. All of us, including the Israelis, were given the opportunity to speak to 3 freshmen and ask them questions. One of the main questions was if the tolerance continued after they left school and they told us the honest to god truth: no. There have been situations where the kids have been on public transportation and they have been spit on or yelled at because they speak Hebrew or Arabic to each other. However, the amazing parents involved with this school have taken strong action against these acts of hatred. After speaking with the teenagers, we got to go see a kindergarten class. It surprised and amazed me at the amount of tolerance displayed in this classroom. There were posters in both languages around the room, and a tree of acceptance. The olive tree depicted in this room had different religious symbols. I love the amount of tolerance taught in this school and I think it should be taught in schools in America.

After leaving Hand-in-Hand, we all went to the JCCA for lunch. Lunch was either shawarma, schnitzel, or cold cuts. I has schnitzel and it was DELICIOUS. After we ate, we were instructed to put our chairs in a circle and get comfortable. A man from an organization called ‘Ir Amim’ which translates to “city of nations,” came to speak to us about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, specifically concerning Jerusalem. After the 2 hour lecture, we got on the bus and drove to see the security wall. The security wall made every Israeli-Palestinian discussion real. The moment I saw Palestine on the other side, I realized just how real this entire situation really is.

Immediately following seeing the wall, we got on the bus and headed back to our host families. That night, all of the Young Ambassadors and Israelis decided to go to the movies. The movie theatre was in a mall-type-thing and it was amazing. The floor had lights and there was chocolate everywhere! There was also a fish-pedicure place. Julie got a fish pedicure and said it was totally worth the 30 shekels.

Jamie M. is a participant on the 2014 Bob Malkin Young Ambassadors Teen Leadership Program.

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