Day 7 | 2022 Children’s Village Teen Volunteer Program
Today was the beginning of a new phase in our Israel trip. We left behind our amazing four-day journey and went on a short trip with Tomer Hoffman as our guide. I had a peaceful start to my day, starting with morning calisthenics and music practice on my French horn mouthpiece in the company of friendly community cats. The others woke up later and we each made our own breakfast (I just had cereal). We went to meet Tomer at 08:15 by the van. He had been our guide on Tuesday, though after our four days with another guide, our journeys with him to the mayor’s office and the Sea of Galilee felt so long ago.
We first headed to Yagur—a short drive from Karmiel—where we met up with Tsipy and Zev, who had left to visit family upon our arrival at Jerusalem on Thursday. We all began to chant Zev’s name as he stepped onto the van, hoping to give him a warm welcome back. We immediately got off of the van to visit an amusement park, where we rode a miniature roller coaster (for our Pittsburgh readers, this was the equivalent of the Lil’ Phantom at Kennywood). I do not like roller coasters so I was naturally a little bit scared, but it was nothing at all and we had a great time. After our little ride, we sat down in chairs that were reminiscent of those in a diner from the 1950s as we listened to a rabbi talk about the kibbutz (we were actually inside of one). He had grown up in a kibbutz and repeatedly described it as a “socialist utopia.” We took a tour of the kibbutz and visited a cemetery, where the rabbi talked about the incredible sacrifices that had to be made in order to help the community. We also went inside of a synagogue, where the rabbi showed us a Torah. He also taught us the words “Ben-Adam aleh lemala,” which talks about mankind rising up. We put these lyrics into a song and sang in a canon along with his guitar, later switching to the song “Hallelujah.” Our voices were quite timid at first, but once we got the hang of it, we were having a great time. To wrap up our tour of the kibbutz, we reflected upon our learnings. We discussed the success of the kibbutzim in the early days of Israel and even before its founding, but several questions remained unanswered. One question seemed to be on everyone’s minds: if the kibbutzim were so successful, what led to their decline?
We got back on the van and drove to the nearby city of Haifa, one of the three main cities in Israel (the others being Tel Aviv and Jerusalem). I had wanted to visit Haifa since we landed in Tel Aviv, though I could not tell why (it was most likely due to the combination of its northern geography and its fun name). We stopped above the beautiful Baháʼí Gardens, which consisted of several flights of stairs with lawns and terraces on both sides, ultimately leading to a holy edifice topped with a golden dome. Though the gardens themselves looked clearly European, the gray buildings, industrial cranes, and majestic cargo ships on a blue sea reminded me of the coastal regions of Japan. In addition, the light color and incredible cleanliness made the stairwells look quite new—a stark contrast to the brown walls of the dark Old City in Jerusalem). Our time in Haifa was short, but it was absolutely wonderful. With the high wind in the blue sky breezing over, a reminder of my Japanese identity, I felt a bright smile persist across my face.
As noon approached, we left Haifa to return to the village in Karmiel. We ate lunch at the cafeteria, and I was surprised by my excitement, as my first day eating lunch in the cafeteria was not a good experience. I was in a new country and being fed food in a mysterious village. When I first entered the cafeteria, I had so many ideas about what a children’s village could be. I associated a strange smell with an inferior environment. I immediately rejected the utensils because they did not seem clean. Even the food itself seemed like it came from a poorly managed orphanage. Small samples of food timidly touched my senseless tongue. My fork avoided all contact with my mouth. Yet after four days away from the village, the cafeteria seemed radically different. The strange scent revealed itself as the smell of steam from the hot food. I realized that the only thing that covered the silver utensils was dried water. I finally saw the food for the goodness that it was: warm orzo with fresh green peas, hot dogs wrapped in crusty bread, and hot, salty soup. As I ate, I filled my mouth full with food, allowing myself to taste without restriction. Confused and pleased by my sudden evolution, I eagerly returned for seconds.
At 14:45, we met back with Tomer and got in the van. We went to the Absorption Center to meet with teenagers and young adults who fled to Israel during the Russo-Ukrainian War. We only had about an hour, but we were able to listen to some of their stories. For many of them, the decision to leave was sudden and unexpected. Tickets to move were rapidly increasing in price. One person could only bring two backpacks and traveled underground, sleeping in metal shelves meant for storing vegetables. For another teenager, the mother was far away in Sweden and the father was no longer in contact with him. Still, through all of the hardship that they had been through, they felt lucky for being able to move. As a gift, we gave them a voucher of 450 shekels to spend on clothes or shoes. As they went shopping, we got the chance to talk with some of them, and we realized that while they had endured such horrific and incredible journeys, they were still just young people like us. Some of them were eager to talk to us about their favorite sports teams. Others quickly exchanged their social media accounts.
Since our driver could not make it, we got on a much bigger bus to head back to the village. As a fun surprise, Tomer brought his family to our house! Together, we cooked a dish called shakshuka. Some people cut onions, some cut tomatoes, and others helped with different things; it was truly a group effort. We had pizza and Israeli salad for dinner (the pizza was in a box, but many people still noticed an upgrade from the pizza in the United States). The shakshuka took a while to cook, but when it was finally ready, we all thought that it was delicious!
We were not able to visit our mishpachtonim today, but we all loved our educational visit to the kibbutz, the beautiful sight of Haifa, and our powerful meeting with the young people from Ukraine and Russia.