Jan 3, 2013  By Elaine Lampert  Category: Education,

Alternative Break - Arrival

I signed up for JNF Alternative Winter Break because I was looking for something fun and meaningful to do this winter break.  This trip is turning out to be just that.

We arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport Sunday evening.  Most of us slept for some of the flight.  I enjoyed getting to know the people sitting near me before and after I slept.  We went through customs, claimed luggage, and were greeted by Michal, our Israeli guide, and Gabe, who works for Shorashim and is supervising our trip.  We then went to the buses, got our cell phones and exchanged for shekel, loaded up, and headed toward Yerucham, where we would be staying for the first four nights.

Yerucham has a nice, clean hostel where we stay in rooms of three to four with a bathroom in each bedroom.  We eat breakfast and dinner there too.  I have three nice roommates all from different parts of the country.

Each day we have breakfast, leave for a work project and an activity, come back, shower, have dinner, do another activity here/ice breaker, and then go to sleep (and believe me, we are SO tired at the end of the day). Yesterday we went to Yossi's farm, an organic farm in the Negev, where we helped an amazing man pull weeds out his winery.   The farm was beautiful, and Yossi told us all about his dream of having this farm in the Negev, along with the struggles he and his family face to keep the farm going.  He also spoke to us about how we works peacefully with the Bedouin community nearby.  He served us an amazing lunch with fresh vegetables, pita, deli meat, tea with fresh mint, and many other treats.  What amazes me is that the work our group did in five hours takes him and his volunteers at least a month to complete.  After we left the farm, we went to Ramon Crator, which Michal says is actually a "Maktesh".  After that we visited David Ben-Gurion's grave.  We came back for dinner and an activity.  Since it was New Year's Eve, the staff had a party for us, complete with a great Israeli DJ, dancing, and karaoke!  I had a great time, and enjoyed celebrating the New Year in this beautiful country.

I really want to highlight today, which was very meaningful to me.  We worked at Earth's Promise, which is a social service organization that helps the Ethiopian Immigrants feel at home.  We met Adam, who is in charge of the gardens. Adam made Aliyah two years ago to work at Earth's Promise. We learned about how Earth's Promise helps Ethiopian Immigrants by giving them a place to live and lots of classes to help them thrive in Israel.  They also give each family a garden plot, to help them feel at home as most of them had farms as their professions. Today, I worked on completing the creation of a Djo, which is the traditional hut that Ethiopians live in, made of a bamboo frame and mud walls made of a mixture of clay, sand, and hay.  First, many of us got "down and dirty", mixing the mud with our feet (see Facebook or Earth's Promise's website for pictures).  Then, we put the mud on the bamboo frame with our hands to make the walls.  As I was spreading the sticky, cool mud on the walls, I reflected on the meaning of why we were making a Djo here in Israel.  The immigrants asked for the Djo to be built to help them feel at home in this strange land.  I thought about my life, and how I have lived in other places that are very different from home, where people speak differently from me.  I thought about how I always feel better if I have things that remind me of home, such as pictures, books, food, or something related to Judaism with me.  I felt so connected to the immigrants as I helped create the Djo, and feel so fulfilled that I helped make them feel at home.

I am so lucky to have so many wonderful donors who made this trip possible for me.  I am also lucky enough to have Anne Greenspoon, Associate Director of Israel Advocacy and Education and Josh Weisblum, an ASB alum as my trip leaders.  Anne is always pointing out all of the amazing work JNF is doing in Israel and I am so excited to tell my donors all about this work when I return.  I truly appreciate how I experience the tzedakah in action, and look forward to seeing more of the projects that JNF has in Israel this week.