Saturday, July 18, 2009

Otzmaniks from Phoenix area finish program

An earlier blog article reported on the group of 6 Otzmaniks that were in Kiryat Malachi. Here is a story that was in the Phoenix Jewish news in July about the 3 from Phoenix.

Three Phoenix area young adults left for Israel in September 2008 to participate in OTZMA, a program supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix that allows young Jews to perform integral roles in Israeli society. As part of the 10-month program, which works in conjunction with the Jewish Agency for Israel's Department of Jewish Zionist Education, they also volunteer in the federation's TIPS (Tucson, Israel, Phoenix, Seattle) Partnership city of Kiryat Malachi. The program ended last month; here the students write about their experiences.

Adam Resnik
My most memorable experience in Israel, unfortunately, was not a happy one. In December, when the war in Gaza broke out, I was on a break from OTZMA for winter vacation. By the time our break ended, the war was still going on, and since the city I was supposed to volunteer in was within rocket range, I wasn't allowed to go there. Instead, my program sent me, along with 24 of my friends from the program, to an army base up north to help out in the wartime effort.I enjoyed myself at the base and I was happy to help out; however, being displaced by a war was a grim reality check for me. I was able to see the turmoil here firsthand, and I saw how difficult it can be to live in a country where war and terror are imminent threats.

Fortunately, the worse part of the war for me was that I was displaced for a couple weeks. People actually living in the city where I was supposed to volunteer (and later did) didn't have the luxury of the Jewish Agency moving them to another part of the country. I will always remember that experience because of how it affected me personally, and because it brought to light for me a disturbing conflict with no clear solutions.

My plans following OTZMA are to live and work on a kibbutz for the summer. I plan to work at a kibbutz down south near Eilat, called Ketura. It's in the hottest part of the country, but I'm not sweating it (pun intended) because I figure it can't be any worse than the blistering Phoenix summers that I've put up with my whole life. I don't know what kind of work I'll be doing at the kibbutz, but hopefully it's something indoors and in air conditioning. After that, I plan to go back to Phoenix and get a job (Oy!).

Adam Resnik is a recent graduate of the University of Arizona. He received his degree in psychology with a minor in business administration.

Justine Slovin
As I watch American college students buy "SuperJew" and Hebrew "Coca-Cola" shirts from the shuk, it's hard to believe that I once experienced Israel in the same way. After 10 months of volunteering in development towns and South Tel Aviv, I find myself connected, inspired and more confused about my beliefs than ever.

This year I lived in an immigrant absorption center in Nazareth Ilit, where I taught English to recent immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia. In Sderot, I held in my arms both small children from the day-care center and remnants of rockets that had exploded just one day before my visit. I attended a rally in honor of Gilad Shalit, and joined the masses in the Hebrew version of "Yes, We Can" to bring him back.This year I experienced my first tzeva adom, red alert, a siren warning of a Kassam attack and was displaced by war.

As I lugged suitcases across the country, I thought of my fellow Jews, both armed and unarmed targets, fighting for their lives on the Gaza periphery.I finally had the opportunity to move to Kiryat Malachi, where I encountered Israeli schoolchildren without verbal filters, taught English and embraced the character and warmth of Phoenix's Partnership 2000 city. I met moms and dads who all happened to have "the perfect son."

This year I finally spent Pesach in Jerusalem. I volunteered for two months in a school that educates African refugees, children of guest workers, new immigrants and native-born Israelis.

I was touched by the dedication of the directors and teachers, as well as the resilience of the students. This year in Israel I let go of expectations and learned the meaning of flexibility. I discovered that I can live without a microwave, television and privacy.

This year I realized that one year simply isn't enough for me, and I accepted a teaching job at the school where I currently volunteer.

Justine Slovin is a recent graduate of the University of Arizona, where she received her master's degree in education with a secondary teaching certificate. She is in Phoenix until mid-August, and is accepting donations for books, games, CDs, art supplies or anything in English for the Israeli school where she will be working in the upcoming school year.Contact her at

Sarah Beckerman
Most of my time during the day was spent teaching English. I went every morning to either the elementary school or the high school and met with students between grades 3-12 and helped them in ways ranging from spelling "C-A-T" to writing essays. Believe it or not, some of the kids who needed help with "C-A-T" are in the 12th grade (and they start learning English as early as the third grade).

The school system in Israel is unmanageable, underfunded, in desperate need of a discipline system and overall horrendous.However, a major reason why things were even more out of control than usual this year was the war in Gaza. During the war, the Israeli government closed all schools in the south for security reasons, so these kids were basically on a five-week "vacation" in the middle of the year. By the time they got back to school, they were off track and not in a learning mindset.

The young children definitely took the events during the Gaza war a lot harder.The first few times I went to the elementary school, I met tons of different kids every day, and one day this group of a few kids came up to me and asked, "yesh Kasamim in America?" - "Are there Kassam rockets in America?" I just looked at them for a second, shook my head and said, "No, no we don't have Kassam rockets in America." The kids then stopped for a second, thought, and said, "OK, I go to America, no alarms there. No Kassam rockets there."

But despite it all - the craziness, the jumping out of windows, the yelling, the war, the alarms - at the end of the day, even though they are still crazy and out of control, they are actually really great kids, real characters who truly have something to offer. They have great hearts and minds, they just need to be guided in the right direction.I truly believe that even though I was only in their lives for a few months, I was able to help and guide them down the right path.

Stacy Beckerman received her bachelor's degree in history and political science from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

About OTZMA: OTZMA is a 10-month service-based leadership program offering young adults ages 20-26 the opportunity to acquire an in-depth understanding of Israel and the Jewish people. The program combines social action and community building while offering participants the chance to learn Hebrew, intern, volunteer