New York University Bronfman Center – Israel – June 2010

Monday, June 28th, 2010

NYU JDC: A Day At The Park

On International Refugee Day, participants on JDC’s Short-Term Service Program with NYU’s Bronfman Center spent an afternoon playing with the children of foreign workers and asylum seekers in Tel Aviv’s HaTikvah neighborhood. Fun was had by all!

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Israel and Refugees – Talking to the UNHCR

In Israel, the refugee situation is characteristic of so many other countries dealing with the consequences of globalization, but the nature of the country’s genesis as a Jewish homeland adds additional complexities. Last Sunday, a representative from the United Nation’s High Commision for Refugees (UNHCR) spoke to us about the risks that asylum seekers must take in order to get to Israel and the further difficulties they must endure during the process of Refugee Status Determination (RSD). Following this, we were later prompted into a fascinating discussion of the dimensions of how refugee policy interacts with the concept of Israel as a Jewish state and homeland. According to the representative from the UNHCR, the refugees, who come principally from Eritrea and Sudan, often pay the equivalent of thousands of dollars to smugglers to bring them to Israeli/Egyptian border in the Sinai Desert. In a significant number of cases, they are subject to sexual violence and rape or being held for an additional ransom that their families in their home countries are compelled to pay. Other times, they might be shot at by the Egyptian border control.  Once they finally make it across to Israel, the IDF picks them up and brings them to a detention center where they speak to immigration officials and social workers in order to ascertain the identity of the refugee, if they are eligible for being granted asylum and if they are a security threat to Israel. Depending on the individual and their documents, they can be held at the center for as little as a few months, or as long as a number of years, which is especially problematic since many of those who arrive are vulnerable women, or individual children who came alone or whose guardian had died during the journey, along with numerous young men.

Determining the status of asylum seekers is a sluggish process, but even when it is complete, many migrants live in uncertainty. According to a social worker with Mesila who showed us the immigrant neighborhood near Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station, once released from the detention center, refugees are brought by bus to Levinsky Park. Here we did indeed see many men idly sitting, waiting for work in the same way that one might see illegal/undocumented immigrants in America waiting by the roadside or in the parking lots of construction supply stores in order to get a job for the day. Asylum seekers still awaiting Refugee Status Determination are not given working papers and so are in a similar situation as the other non-citizen immigrants who would have to work under the table and whose labor rights might be violated by their employers.
Flags of Many Nations
By not providing refugees with working papers and making Israel a difficult environment to work in, the government dictates the conditions of push and pull factors which make the country appealing or unappealing for migrants. On the one hand, Israel’s economic opportunities attract legal temporary workers from Asia and India, but working restrictions on refugee migrants are meant to help staunch the flow of individuals crossing the border illegally, estimated around 1,200 people each month. As a ratifying member of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which defines who is considered a refugee, their rights, as well as the legal obligations of their asylum states, Israel would not be able to forcibly send refugees from Sudan and Eritrea back to their home countries due to the turmoil there, potentially altering the demographic make-up of the Jewish state. The representative from the UNHCR split us into four groups and asked each to deliberate on the arguments for and against the following four statements

– Israel has enough issues to worry about without the burden of refugees.
– One of the indicators of being a developed country is immigration.
– The state of Israel’s desire to retain a Jewish majority makes fulfilling refugee rights an impossibility.
– Creating a refugee camp in Israel would enable the safety and security for asylum seekers without impacting on Israeli society.

Several factors complicated our conversation. One we considered was whether it is Israel’s responsibility to accept refugees during a time of genocide, knowing full well that many European countries had either closed their doors or only took in a small quota of Jews fleeing the Nazis. Another was a debate over whether the Jewish homeland could play host to a minority of non-Jewish immigrants who were also entitled to practice their religion, as well as the religious education of their children within the structure of the public schools, which many of these children already attend. In the end, the third question proved to be most contentious, since the number of new asylum seekers is unprecedented. Previous to this current wave of new millennial immigrants, the only example of a major influx of non-Jewish refugees was when Prime Minister Menachem Begin granted citizenship to a few hundred Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s, comparing their plight to that of European Jews being turned away at so many ports during the Second World War. If today’s pull factors bring asylum-seeking families to Israel and the government neither grants legal refugee status or deports them, then they remain in the country in a state of limbo. As we have seen with the children we’ve played with in the park and the ‘babysitters’ who care for them after-school, they establish their own Israeli identities and learn to speak Hebrew in elementary school or through general exposure to the culture and language. On one hand, deciding to allow them to stay in perpetuity adds additional richness and diversity to the immigrant culture of Israel, but it also detracts from the unity of a Jewish society, itself a problematic idea, as the representative from the UNHCR  shed light on some of the current feuding between the Ashkenazi and Sefardic religious communities and the discontent religious and more secular Israelis feel towards each other.
"Kingdom of Pork"Nevertheless, as refugees stay in Israel and continue raising families, each successive generation becomes larger, unless people opt to imigrate to another country or to the country of origin if the initial push factor which prompted their flight is improved.
As we played football and drew with sidewalk chalk with the elementary school aged children of immigrants and asylum seekers, all of whom spoke fluent Hebrew, I couldn’t help but think of what the wheelchair-bound Israeli elderly, and their foreign-born caretakers, thought of the ruckus happening around them. Were they proud to see unlikely Hebrew speakers playing in Hatikva’s park? Should the Jewish nation, born out of fears and hopes of the Diaspora’s most vulnerable, a society which they helped build and defend, in turn provide safe haven for the targeted populations of Africa and elsewhere?
You are invited to continue the conversation in the comment field.

Friday, June 25th, 2010

NYU JDC: Before and After Pictures From Our Service!

Over the course of a week, our group worked hard to paint and refurbish four “babysitter” centers used by children of Israel’s asylum-seeker and foreign worker community. We were so excited to leave newly painted walls and colorful murals that will hopefully brighten up their days. Here are a couple of “Before and After” photos that show the results of our work!

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

NYU JDC: Shabbat at the “Babysitters”

The harder the work, the greater the rest. This Friday, our group split up, one half continuing work, begun the day before, on daycare center renovations in the Hatikva neighborhood of Tel Aviv, while the others got some outdoors time working in the garden of a kindergarten. The day would end with blistered palms and paint-speckled overalls, and with everyone ready for a day of rest.

The old pink walls of the soon-to-be daycare center, previously chipped and warped by neglect, are now bright and clean with fresh layers of paint, with just a narrow strip of the old pink color left behind as a homage to the old tenants. The backyard has was emptied of rotten, beaten furniture, now with plenty of room for the children to move around in and enjoy the sunshine when it peeks through the freshly trimmed, gangly branches of the tree at the center of the concrete rectangle of backyard space.

Soon the daycare center will be filled with the noises of children. These are children that none of us will ever know personally, or possibly ever meet. But they should come to understand that they’re worth our time and our attention. They’re deserving of a clean and bright place to live and to play. We all need a bit of rest, and I can only imagine that we’ve helped to create an environment, a world within many worlds, where all sorts of children can discover their own sort of comfort.

We’ve added some more pictures below from our week of service. More pics to come!

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

NYU JDC: Getting to Know HaTikva

To say that today was our first “full” day in Israel would be the understatement of the century. Today was more than just “full.” It all started at 7:15 (AM!) with a tour of the neighborhood where we will be working for the next eight days, southern Tel Aviv’s HaTikva Quarter.

Home to much of Israel’s migrant workers and asylum-seeking population, HaTikva is a section of Israel’s coastal metropolitan that almost seems like another city altogether. As our tour guide Roni from Mesila, a municipal agency that provides much needed assistance to one of the country’s most at-risk and impoverished populations, said, it’s difficult to find a Hebrew sign or storefront in this most culturally-diverse section of town, which attracts residents from around the world, mostly of East Asian and African origin. The morning walking tour of HaTikva took us through the neighborhood’s narrow streets, into its central park, and gave us our first glimpse in to a section of Tel Aviv that we realized could use all the help it can get.

Following this eye-opening tour, the group was off to paint and renovate a “babysitter,” which is the name given to day care centers for children of foreign workers ran by fellow foreign workers who spend their days caring for up to thirty children under the age of three. Upon first stepping into the three story, three bedroom fixer-upper in HaTikva, owned and operated by our kind and welcoming host, Grace, we immediately strapped on our over-alls and got to work. Paint-splattered, sweaty, and just a little jet-lagged , we all worked together to revitalize Grace’s babysitter and make it a cleaner and safer environment for the children that will be spending much of their time there. Morning one was a success, but our day wasn’t over yet.

After lunch, some rest and reflection, and a group discussion of Jewish texts and their relevance to our service, it was playtime. The group got to spend a couple of hours at HaTikva Park playing with some of the children of Tel Aviv’s foreign workers and asylum-seekers. Suddenly, our exhaustion disappeared as the seventeen of us did some arts and crafts, played on the playground, had some games of catch, soccer, and EXERCISE! (as the kids liked to refer to running) all around the park. We hope Abachuku, Brian, Joel, Princess, Edna, Tracy, Jeremy, Felix and the rest of the kids had as much fun in the park as we did.

Finally, we capped off a very busy day with a discussion with the director of the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), Yohannes Bayu, and Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI) Program Coordinator, Ilan Cohen about the hardships of being an asylum-seeker in Israel. An enlightening end to our very “full” first day.

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

JDC NYU takes Tel Aviv! (and Bat Yam)

Shalom l’kulam,

The NYU group is now safely settled in our hotel in Bat Yam and ready to go to Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah neighborhood to begin our service trip. We will start by painting and renovating a ‘babysitter’ center for children in the neighborhood. After lunch, we’ll head to the park to do a variety of fun activities with children from the neighborhood. We met today with leaders of several organizations that are instrumental in making our program working with these children a success. We talked about what it meant to be a refugee and an immigrant and began brainstorming ideas of how we can best serve this neighborhood and the children of migrant workers while they are out looking for work. We’re all very excited to begin our work bright and early tomorrow!

And since it was our first day together in Israel, we obviously had to do a lot of introductions. In order for the folks at home to get a better understanding of what we’re up to over here, we’ve compiled a short bio of each participant. Enjoy!

Aviva Stavsky is a senior at NYU studying English and Politics. She is from Teaneck, New Jersey and is a certified spin instructor. She loves Israeli soldiers and sunflowers! Aviva is also our student coordinator on this trip!!!

Keren Sharon is 19 years old and entering her sophomore year at NYU. She’s majoring in Social and Cultural Analysis with a concentration in Gender and Sexuality Studies and Metropolitan Studies. She’s from Forest Hills, New York and once broke her leg ice skating, “not doing a special move or anything.” Her favorite part about Israel is having coffee on Rabin Square.

Alanna Miller is also 19 and a sophomore at NYU. Her major is Media, Culture, and Communications with a minor in Pre Business. She’s from Hewlett, New York and while has never been on an organized trip to Israel before. However, her favorite part about the country is the spiritual connection she feels at the Kotel (Western Wall).

Negin Hadaghian is 20 and is a senior at NYU with a major in Politics and minors in Metropolitan Studies and History and an overall concentration of Western European Immigration Studies. Her hometown is Roslyn, New York and she can recite MadTV’s “Darrell”/”Can I have your number?” sketch “anytime, anywhere, with no shame.” Her favorite place in Israel is also the Kotel and her favorite thing about the country is the people.

Yael Schonzeit is a sophomore at NYU in the School of Social Work. She is in a 5-year masters program with a major in Social Work and double minors in Creative Writing and Adolescent Mental Health Studies. She’s from New York City and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro over winter break with her mom. Yael doesn’t necessarily have a favorite place in Israel because she points out that it’s not about where you are but who you’re with. However, she loves the North and its unique qualities.

David Zandi is 20 and a senior at NYU. He is a Sociology major double minoring in History and Public Policy and Management. David is from Great Neck, New York (wow we have a lot of New Yorkers on this trip) and an interesting fact about David is that he owns currency from every country in the world. His favorite place in Israel is either is grandparent’s apartment or the Bahai Gardens in Haifa.

Dixie Yestadt is 19 and a sophomore. She is majoring in Fashion Merchandising and Management. She’s from New Rochelle, New York and loves meditation. Her favorite place in Israel is Tel Aviv- “the art scene is great!”

Hannah Novick is a 21 year-old senior at NYU majoring in Politics and Art History. She is from San Diego, California and spent her entire junior year abroad in Florence and London; she even skyped in on our orientation! Her favorite place in Israel is Jerusalem because it is a “culmination of so many cultures.”

Jack Jrada is 20 and a senior at NYU majoring in Politics. He is from Brooklyn New York, New York. An interesting fact about Jack is that some of his friends call him ‘George’ “even though it’s not his actual name, not even close.” His favorite place in Israel is Bnei Dan 36, stating “I know it’s just another Israeli youth hostel to the rest of the world, but to me, it’s SO much more.”

Lizzie Pantirer is 20 and is studying Psychology and Art at the New School. She’s from Short Hills, New Jersey and has been body surfing in the Jordan River! Her favorite part about Israel is hiking in the Negev.

Jessica Jaffe is from Newton, Massachusetts. She’s 19 years old and is a sophomore at the NYU College of Nursing. She hopes to be a pediatric nurse someday. She lived in Amsterdam for two years, loves working with children, and is “so excited about this trip!” Her favorite thing about Israel is the sense of community and “at home feeling you get from the moment you arrive in the country.”

Rebekah Thornhill is 21 and a senior at NYU. She’s from Austin, Texas (well Cedar Park but it’s a suburb no one has ever heard of 20 minutes outside of Austin) and is double majoring in History and Jewish History and Civilization with a minor in Politics. She is the oldest of 5 kids, one of whom was adopted. Her favorite place in Israel is Tel Aviv but she loves the people all over the country because everyone takes care of each other and makes you feel at home no matter who you are or where you come from.

Ari K. is 20, a rising junior at NYU, and will be posting photos from the trip here on flickr as well as to facebook and keeping a little journal on tumblr.  Not surprisingly, he’s studying Media and Communications as well as dabbling formally in art history and informally in a dozen other things.  He’s not as well-traveled in Israel as many of the other trip participants, but had a splendid time in the vomitorium of Caesarea when he was an 8th grader.

We’re missing a couple of bios but as soon as we get them we will add them to the blog!!!

Hope all is well back in the States!


Friday, May 14th, 2010

NYU’s JDC Service Trip to Tel Aviv – Orientation!!

In June 2010, participants from the NYU Bronfman Center will travel to Israel with JDC!

Hi all,

Sunday, May 9 was orientation day for the Bronfman Center-NYU group that JDC is taking on  a Short-Term Service Program to Tel Aviv to work with Sudanese refugees in June! While it was an early morning, we did our best to get to know each other and had a chance to Talya Greenspoon from JDC and Erica Frankel from the Bronfman Center, our trip leaders, explain to us what we would be doing in Tel Aviv. Student coordinator Aviva Stavsky also helped us create a list of group expectations that we all had in order to make our trip memorable and life-changing! We learned that we would be staying in a hotel in Bat Yam, just north of Tel Aviv, and working with Sudanese children helping to paint, build, plant gardens, and just play with them.

We also created our own piece of Talmud by studying the passage of “Lech, Lecha” in Genesis and comparing Abraham’s journey to the Promised Land to the one we are about to embark on. After lunch and learning more about the trip, we were honored to have professional photographer Zion Ozeri come teach us about perspective and how to capture a moment rather than simply take a picture.

All in all it was a wonderful few hours and we’re all extremely excited to travel together to make a difference in Israel! All of us have been to Israel before and we can’t wait to see how this trip will be different! We’re also very anxious to get to know one another better and see what projects are in store for us once we get to Tel Aviv.

Soon we’ll have profiles of each person in our group!

Pictures from orientation are below!

Shalom l’kulam!