Thursday, January 27, 2011

Aviv and College4All

Today is my last day of volunteering, but yesterday was my last day at my favorite site, College4All. College4All is a program throughout Israel to help high achieving kids from low income areas succeed and make it to college (after the army for the kids who will serve.) I work at a local high school, Ironi Zayin (which is the letter 'z,' but also slang for penis?) in their College4All program. All the kids in the program have an 85 or better average, and have good behavior and motivation. They stay at school sometimes as late as 6 or 7pm, and the building the program is centered out of is as much a community center as an office. The kids get tutoring in English and other subjects, as well as lessons in other things, like guitar and video editing. It is really a privilege for them to be in the program, and they know it. They are getting so much help and support from being it, and their academics show it.

The woman who runs the program at Ironi Zaying (Ironi Z) is Aviv, and she sort of changed my life. I basically want to be her when I grow up.

In Israel in general, teachers are able to show greater extremes with their emotions to/about the children. As I've mentioned before, there is much more yelling and aggression towards the kids than you see in the states, but there is also much more physical affection. In preschools states, you have to be careful how much you hug or touch your kids, and be very careful to give each kid the same amount of physical affection. Here, not so much the case. In high schools in the states, you have to be very careful, and probably never touch your kids, and try to maintain a professional distance to them. Here, again, not so much.

Aviv loves her kids. She loves them, and they know it, and I know it, and everyone knows it. She calls them all "mami," which is the generic ungendered term of endearment most common here, and will hug and kiss them goodbye if she's near the door when they're leaving. She helps them with their projects, teaches them guitar in her downtime, and knows everything about their lives. She is also very strict with them, and they know not to cross her. If they are late for tutoring session, or cancel without notice, she will come down on them. Hard. I don't understand what she says to them, but that tone of voice transcends language. They have to get good grades, they have to show up, they have to have good behavior, and if they don't they know they're in for it. But they also know that if they do all those things, or even if they slip up sometimes, she is there to be a fount of love and affection, a stable source of support, and a tutor/guide/teacher/mentor for them.

The kids could just come in for their lessons and leave when they are over, but they don't. Many of them come into the "office" (which is just a room with the tables in middle where Aviv works) right after school and stay there, doing homework and hanging out, before and after their lessons, and don't go home until Aviv leaves. Aviv, and the other guy who runs the progam, Itay, has created an enviorment that is fun, safe, stable, and supportive, where the kids can causally get help with any homework problem that is giving them trouble (yesterday Roi, the English coordinator, taught a girl about the circulatory system in Hebrew, and then made her explain it to me in English) and have a place where they won't get shit from their friends for trying to do well on their homework or studying for a test.

One of the great things is that it's not just all academics in the office. On Sunday, as I was waiting for a student to arrive, two of the kids in the guitar class pulled out their guitars and started to play. Aviv and Itay took the guitars and started playing a few songs, which Aviv sang to. Then she gave the guitars back to the kids, hopped up on the table, and taught them both the chords to the song. Within five minutes, she had one kid finger picking and one kid strumming, with Itay drumming on the table and her conducting, counting, and singing. It was a full-out jam session, just created in the moments before these kids had their tutoring.

Aviv is so busy running this program - it would be really easy for her to just make the kids quietly do their homework in her office, no eating, talking, laughing, or jamming allowed. Instead, it is this fun, free, loving environment full of structure and academic exellence, but with a lot of wiggle room.

I want to take that vibe, and that energy, and try and recreate it with my own work. In my fantasty future, when I have my dialogue center, I now want it to also be like a community center. I want it to be somewhere kids can come and hang out after school, young adults can hang out between shifts at work, where it will be fun and chill but structured and safe. Where kids can make posterboards about Salvador Dali (hilariously done yesterday by two of my favorite girls) and then go into a dialogue about race and class, where adults can bring their kids to play or hang out while they are in dialogue...that's what I want now. I want it to be more free, more open to what is happening, not just a space for dialogue but a space for living. And I really want it to have the aura and energy Aviv has infused into her space. The moment you walk into her office you feel surrounded by love and support and comfort, and I don't know quite know how to recreate that, but at least know I know what I'm aiming for.

Also, Aviv doesn't watch or read the news, she doesn't follow politics at all, and she doesn't vote. She said she used to care a lot about that, and she was just upset and mad all the time. Now she doesn't do anything, she just lives her life, and she is much happier. She is doing this amazing coexistence work; some of the kids in her program are Arab, some are Jewish, and that makes no difference to her. She just takes them in, teaches them, loves them, and demands excellence from them. She is improving their lives so much, statistically and everything, making such a huge difference in their lives. All of these kids live in Yafo or South Tel Aviv, none of them have enough or would have a good chance of success without her or this program. She is changing their lives, and she is doing it all apolitically. I honestly didn't even know that was an option. I never thought that apolitical people, with absolutely no interest in following the news, could be the forerunners of such wonderful social justice work.
Even though I am not an apolitical person, and never expect to be, I am really inspired by that part of her. It's sort of even more impressive in way, because she isn't doing this work for the movement or the larger political implications of teaching Jewish and Arab kids together. She is doing it because these kids need help and she is helping them. No ulterior motive, no "higher purpose," just really really helping these kids.
I doubt she would consider herself a social justice activist, but I really see her that way, and she has made me see a whole new kind of activist, mentor, and person.

Also, she brings her dog to work with her every day, and even though it is a male dog, she keeps his long hair away from his eyes with a barrette or girly clip.
And she knew my red jacket was from H&M.
And the second time I ever met she quoted Seinfeld to me (NO SOUP FOR YOU.)

So, basically, she's just amazing.


  1. Wow.

    That's pretty much what there is to say.

    :) I'm glad you got to work in such an amazing place!

  2. It sounds like getting to know her and her work was worth the price of admission, but this whole experience has been so great for you. I guess it's a good thing you couldn't get a decent job in the states last year. :-)