Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Morses from Seattle Volunteer in Kiryat Malachi

Nancy Highiet Morse and her husband Wayne Morse last summer helped host the counselors from Israel who volunteered at the Seattle area JCC Day camp. They also hosted a Jewish student from Hungary. Wayne has his own business and his very handy with both computer and machine repair. Nancy is an independent school librarian who has a spring quarter sabbatical, so the two of them decided to come to Israel just before Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day, and volunteer in Kiryat Malachi. Before leaving, they went to the "garage" of Norm Chapman, the book man, who has collected over 35,000 books from many sources for the schools and libraries in the Kiryat Malachi/Hof Ashkelon region. Nancy gathered some and took them to the gifted center in Kiryat Malachi as well as others for a teacher who lives nearby and teaches outside the region, saving Norm the postage. When he began, books were sent by ship, but now due to security, all is sent by airmail.

Norm and Nancy packing books

Nancy and Wayne arrived in Israel a few days before Yom Haatzmaut, rented a car, drove to Kiryat Malachi late in the evening, and only got a bit lost on the way.
Here is Nancy's report:

After a short sleep, we turned on the hot water, took showers, squeegeed the shower floor, turned off the hot water and headed out to meet the locals, for whom we would be volunteering. Ira, the representative for the TIPS partnership was with us, and he knows everyone!

We left early but arrived late to each appointment because we kept running into people who chatted with Ira. We began in the Municipal Building, to schedule Wayne who would be “working with computers.” Then we hit the KM Library and the religious and secular middle/ high schools, where we would both volunteer. We set our schedule for the next two weeks and ran into Jordan (Yarden) at AMAL , the secular secondary school.

Jordan and Nancy

Our son Zack stayed with Jordan’s family while in Israel on his 8th grade JDS trip. Jordan’s family would be our “host family” while in KM. Unbeknownst to us, Jordan knew all about Zack’s recent house building trip to Mexico, as they’re in contact thru facebook! Amazing!
We said goodbye to Ira, ate a quick schwarma lunch at the corner of Sun Diego/Rashi, took a trip to the shuk to buy fresh fruits and veggies, and enjoyed a much needed nap before the evening KM Yom Hazikaron ceremony, Day of Remembrance for the soldiers who died while serving Israel.

We just followed the crowd to the service. Even though we couldn’t understand the Hebrew, we got the gist of it. We recognized two prayers and Hatikvah. The Yom Hazikaron Program was very moving, with a very sophisticated slide show, wreaths placed for each fallen soldier from KM, standing room only audience, and songs sung by the choir from the Amit school, one of the schools where we’d be volunteering. I lost it when these Ethiopian girls sang Hatikvah, with their beautiful voices!

The next morning at exactly 11 am, the two minute siren sounded everyone stopped in their tracks, cars pull off the road, drivers got out and stood next to their cars, and it was SILENT for the entire time.

Later that afternoon, we fired up the GPS and headed north of Tel Aviv to our friends Norma and Doobie’s for Yom Haatzmaoot, Israel Independence Day. We took a late night walk to the Raanana Park for the celebration. It was PACKED!

We arrived close to midnight for a 12:30am Idan Reichel concert. (His lead singer is from Kiryat Malachi and a few days later we met her younger sister in KM. He’s also coming to the Triple Door in Seattle in August! Not to be missed.) We found our spots on the grass and watched hoards of middle and high school age kids wandering around, as they would until 6am! The bands lasted until 4am. We, who are usually in bed by 10pm, returned home at 2:30am, after an early morning frozen yogurt snack!

After Yom Haatzmaut, we returned to KM and settled into somewhat of a volunteer routine. Each day we would walk to school together, with Wayne helping to carry the books that we had brought from Seattle!

At AMIT, the religious public High School, I helped seniors practice English for their upcoming Bagrut exam. Bagrut exams are nationwide exams based on the national curriculum in given subjects, math, history, English, etc. The exams are very important for the university bound and/or student interested in work requiring an academic background. There are levels of difficulty for each exam.
I loved those students! They answered my set questions, telling me about themselves, their families, their hobbies, (which unfortunately rarely included READING), and about their recently completed research project. I know I shouldn’t pick favorites but
Tzvia was truly inspiring, with her pink cell phone and attached pacifier. She researched and quoted Ophrah, “If you want something, you need to fight until you achieve your goal!” You go girl!

Other days I helped at Amal, the secular school in many different classes. I assisted in a 7th grade English class, where the students were typical 7th graders, interested in me, where I’m from, and WHY I would come to KM. They even asked me if I was Jewish! Anything to not do the work in front of them! I was quite the distraction! Those 7th graders were fun!

Mostly I helped small groups of students who needed extra time to take a test, or a test read out loud, etc. etc. I worked with 8th, 9th and 11th graders at Amal. One day Wayne and I were both working with 9th graders in side by side conference rooms off the Faculty Room. We each had a small group of students, who were to read an English passage, answer questions in writing and then write a short, 35 – 50 word essay on “When I grow up….”
I wish we had a video of this session. As we tried to explain the directions, with our limited Hebrew, we passed the LONELY PLANET PHRASEBOOK, back and forth with its 3500 word two-way dictionary. Eventually the students understood what they were to do, but it was hilarious!

After that morning session, Wayne went off to work on computers, his main job in KM. He worked at the elementary school Eli Cohen, where he deleted games and set administrative passwords to prevent students downloading files. He also spent a lot of time shooing a young man out of the Computer Lab, also known as the bomb shelter.

child from Eli Cohen
Wayne also worked with Avi, the Vice Principal of the Amit School, repairing his computer and compiling a slide show for the end of the year celebration, especially for the 12th grade graduation. When Wayne had nothing else scheduled, he returned to Amit. Avi was delighted with all he had done, and is looking forward to Wayne's return! The Amit students were the ones who sang so beautifully the first night at the Yom Hazikaron ceremony. Avi wants us to come back for a month next time!

Avi and Wayne
We spent our afternoons visiting with the Israeli students whom we met last summer when they worked at the Stroum JCC. At the apartment, we also hosted the students who will be coming to work at JCC’s in the US this summer.

It was great fun meeting this wonderful group of very dynamic students. We’re not sure yet who is going where, but they shared their very interesting life stories. One girl lives on the Moshav closest to Gaza, and her house was hit twice by mortars. Luckily all were fine.

They shared that during the Gaza War, they really enjoyed their three weeks up North without school! After a very long meeting discussing “being a good guest” and different cultural competencies, (see list from –Arizona) at 9pm we went to Jordan’s (Zack’s 8th grade friend) for dinner.

His mom kept bringing out very yummy food. She has a very interesting story. She retired at 45 after 25 years in the police dept. investigating corruption, and putting many people in jail. Now she’s in charge of a program for At-Risk students in KM and she’s PTA President of the Amal School. We saw her the next morning in front of the school looking for students from her program. Jordan commented at dinner that he doesn’t study, that’s what girls do! Right.

We had several other amazing, only in Israel experiences. One afternoon, Wayne and I went to the hardware and plumbing stores in KM to buy supplies for the apartment. Now that was a trip! Before Home Depot, remember the old, tiny hardware stores with stuff everywhere?

Lot’s of sign language, pointing and searching through the phrase book to collect the stuff we needed. Wayne was totally in his element! At the plumbing store I asked for a toilet seat, by pointing at the toilet bowl, squatting and pointing to my tush! The shop keeper understood, and brought out the 35, 50 and 75 shekel versions!

Wayne in the KM hardware store

Wayne spent the afternoon making repairs around the apartment, while I wondered where the nearest hospital was located in case the wiring he was fiddling with should spark!

Ira came by later and we went for coffee. At a nearby table, two young women were peering over an atlas, planning an upcoming trip. (Israelis are BIG travelers.) We borrowed their atlas and discovered that one of them will be working at Camp Kalsman, outside Seattle this summer! Such a small world only is Israel story!

We spent our last day buying souvenirs, touring the Alexander Muss campus and meeting up with Ben, one of the Hungarian students we met last summer when he worked at the JCC in Seattle.

Nancy and Ben

It was a great trip, filled with memories of the students and adults we met in Kiryat Malachi. Every day was a new adventure! We were challenged in so many ways. We had to modify our style of dress, shop and eat different foods, speak Hebrew, and learn to rely solely on each other. We faced poverty everyday. One teacher explained to Wayne that one of his students was failing because he had ten brothers and sisters, no place to sleep, and was hungry.

As we packed our bags to come home, the Pope’s upcoming arrival in Israel was making headlines.

Early May is the perfect time to be in Israel. The weather was sunny and not too warm. If you’re interested in making a very different trip to Israel and want to contribute at the grassroots level, contact Adam Tennen in Phoenix atatennen@jewishphoenix.org or Dina Tanners @ tanners47@yahoo.com

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