First, there was rest. After catching up on sleep and resting a bit, my day began in the early afternoon as we all went to the Yarkon River north of our hotel in Tel Aviv and learned about environmental issues in Israel. Our teacher, Hannah Schafter, an American from Portland, Oregon, now living here and working for Zalul, which focuses on ending water pollution, explained a great deal about how the serious need for water and industry in the country has impacted water quality here. Her organization managed to end the destruction of an important coral reef just off the southern coast of Israel and they have worked to get industry to improve its environmental practices. We then went off in pairs with plastic trash bags and gloves on our hands to do some cleaning up along the river bed. I was paired with Judy, who is also blogging this trip (officially for CBST) and we filled up our bag very quickly. It was a beautful sunny 70 degree day and families were out in full force in the park located along the river bank.
The Yarkon River
Judy after the clean-up with Adam and Chet behind her. The CBST blog can be found at http://cbstisrael2010.blogspot.com/
From the river we went south to Jaffa, the city next to Tel Aviv that is home to both Arabs and Jews, and visited with a group of young people in the Mechina program, a one-year pre-army program for high school graduates. In a sense, this is a gap year for Israeli students before they do their mandatory army service. This Mechina (which means Preparation) is run by the Reform Jewish movement and stresses social justice and human rights (including how to apply these values into army service). The students live together communally, do a variety of different community service jobs and study social justice topics. We met as a large group and then broke into 4 small groups to be able to talk more easily and get to know one another a bit better. One of our group's members, Elizabeth, noted publicly that she has been a teacher for 40 years of students in the 17-18 year old age group, and just by looking at these young people she could see their commitment and dedication. It was a very moving statement and made an impression on the kids. After our small groups, we all went outside together and in one big circle celebrated Havdalah, the end of the Sabbath, with a braided candle, sweet smelling spices (which in this case was improvised from coffee grounds) and wine. We came away refreshed and hopeful.
In the apartment of Melchina youth. Many peace stickers on the wall, plus The Simpsons, and the only Christmas tree we saw in Israel. When asked about it the kids said it was "a joke."
Israeli youth must perform their army service at age 18--boys for 3 years, girls for 2. For those small number who are exempted, there is an alternative community service program. College does not begin until army service is completed. I asked them about that, contrasting it with the US where kids by and large go right to college from high school. One student responded that if she were to start college now she would have no idea yet what she wanted to study. They mostly saw the army as a maturation experience and felt that their year in Mechina helped them mature even more. This is a great contrast to the US where we view college as the maturation experience and where there is much more emphasis on finishing one's education to get into the job market as quickly as possible. I imagine that there are few if any so-called party schools in Israel.
Some of the young people in our small group.
Tonight we were on our own in Tel Aviv and 5 of us went to dinner, hoping to do some shopping after, but alas, after Shabbat, the stores did not reopen. Truly, the only disappointment of the day.