Thursday, October 7, 2010

First Day of Volunteering

I am sorry for not writing for so long. I’m picking up with today, and will be writing about the profound things that have come up in the last week, but not all the minutia. Here is yesterday!

October 6, 2010

Today is our first day of volunteering. I went to two sites: the Daniel Kindergarten and the Arab-Jewish Community Center. At the Daniel Kindergarten I thought we were just going to talk to the people and find out what classes we’re going to be in and observe some. Of course, in true Israeli style, we got there and the lady was like, “Okay, here is a class, you’re here until 3, yes? Okay.” And left. So we observed for a while and then waded in and started playing. It is fascinating in there.

In the “kindergarten” there is a big range of ages, possibly 4-7. The kids are a mix of Arab and Jewish, but I’m not sure how they are split up or what language the instruction is in. I only heard the teachers speaking Hebrew, but maybe in their individual classes there is some Arabic, I’m not sure. The physical set up is very interesting, with a common playroom and then small personal classrooms off of it (Mickey Mouse style).

There are so many differences in the way the children act here and in America. There is a huge amount of pushing, grabbing, violence and running crazy here. There is an intense lack of personal space, and the kids are constantly touching each other. There is much less teacher interaction and facilitation, and the kids end up resolving almost all of their altercations by themselves. And by “resolve,” I mean whoever grabs harder wins. I’m sure this was compounded by the fact there was only one teacher for a whole lot of kids, but I imagine that even with more teachers, it would still be this way.

I see a lot of adult Israeli behavior in this setting. Israelis are constantly pushing each other, there is no such thing as line, and people get all up in your personal space. The short version is that Israelis are not known for their excessive politeness or turn taking. At the supermarket, you can be waiting in line for 20 minutes and people will come around to the front of the counter and buy their soda or whatever without waiting, and that’s totally acceptable. It’s clear these kids are socialized to do these things from day one. This kindergarten is tiny version of real Israeli society, like all kindergartens are tiny versions of their societies, I suppose.

And this is a coexistence school, with many Jewish families with money and many local Arab kids without money. The Jewish families mostly belong to Beit Daniel, a temple in Tel Aviv, that started this kindergarten inside an existing elementary school. So, in theory, it is awesome that these Jewish and Arab kids in the same classes, getting to be friends and getting to know each other. However, after brief time there, I wonder if instead of getting to be friends and getting to know one another, they are just learning to fight with each other from a younger age. I didn’t notice too much of Jewish-looking kids only fighting with Arab-looking kids, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the case. I hope this early interaction isn’t actually making thing worse.

When we entered the school, the security guard who let us in was about to undo the lock, and then he stopped and asked: “Do you have gun?” We were all quite taken aback, and said no, to which he replied: “Any weapon?” We said no, and then he let us in. None of us failed to notice the loaded gun on his hip. I’ve gotten very used to seeing giant guns around everywhere, and his little sidearm was much smaller than the giant things the soldiers carry around with them, but still. Seeing him walking around dozens of 4-year-olds with a gun on him completely weirded me out. I know the kids are completely used to guns, and that when they grow up most of them will serve in the army and use a gun, but still. Seeing it inches away from them was not something I enjoyed.

It also struck me when I was sitting at a table with them playing with plastic animals, that most of these kids are going to be in the army in less than 14 years. And they are going to carry guns and shoot things and maybe die. And that is so terrifying.

After the kindergarten, Stephanie and I went to the Community Center, which is about a 15-minute walk from our house. Usually I will be there on Thursdays, but I went today to get an orientation. Like the kindergarten, there was no real orientation, we just worked with/talked to to the kids. There weren’t very many today because it was a weird schedule, but we did talk to two 13-year-old girls for quite a while. They were the sweetest girls ever, and super impressively spoke Arabic, Hebrew, and English fluently. Wtf, I wish I were as awesome as they are. The girl who runs the center is very nice; she’s American and made aliya a few years ago, so it’s nice that there is zero language barrier with her. Sadly, the two girls we bonded with today won’t be there on Thursdays, which is my regular day, so I’ll have to start all over tomorrow. But I think it will be fine.

And tonight we went out to Margoza, the local bar we tend to frequent, to have a party for our ulpan class with our teacher, Shira. Since our orientation month has ended, now we are all sharing one teacher, unfortunately the one from the intermediate class I HATED. So we went out with Shira, and it was hilariously fun. We’re going to miss her tons and tons, but she says she’ll come visit us. She gave us her cell number, so we’re going to force her to. We are all very concerned about having the intermediate teacher because none of us have had good experiences with him. Also, we are either joining with the intermediate class and having one giant class (their class only has 4 people and is at the same point in the book that we are?) or splitting our class into two groups and having the more advanced of us join with the intermediate class. I don’t really know which one would work better; mostly I just wish Shira were staying.

After the bar we came back to my apartment and watched NCIS, which thankfully is improving after the super weird first episode, and then bed! The end!

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