Yesterday morning, Ima and Abba came down to Yeruham and picked me up. We went to “Al HaGrill” for lunch and then drove up to Dimona to see a couple of things there. Abba is on a committee for the JFNA (Jewish Federations of North America) and they oversee a couple of things there, I believe. Both things were very interesting.
The first thing we saw was Yad LaBanim of Dimona. Yad LaBanim, which I learned exists in every Israeli city, is a memorial for all soldiers of a particular city that have fallen in war. Downstairs was a museum that documented the history of Dimona. The docent there explained how Dimona used to be a bunch of tents and then huts for immigrants from both Europe and Middle Eastern countries, and workers lived there and commuted to factories and whatnot. Many of these people were strong Zionists and wanted Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, so when the immigrants arrived and asked what Dimon was, the response was “Dimona? It’s 15 minutes from Jerusalem,” or “Dimona? It’s like Tel Aviv!” Eventually it got turned into a city, and David Ben-Gurion endorsed it as the “wonder of wonders” of Israeli cities, praising how well it was developing as a town in the Negev. Slowly, motels, hotels, movie theaters, a train station, etc. were developed into the city and now it looks legitimate. I enjoyed that tour.
Even more amazing, however, is what we saw after. We went to the Partnership 2000 office, where we met with a guy named Yisrael, now in charge of Partnership programs in Dimona but used to teach at Belevav Shalem in Yeruham, the yeshiva high school where I do my volunteering. He explained the Lunch ‘n Learn program, geared towards kids from lower socio-economic backgrounds whose parents aren’t really equipped to help them with their schoolwork. It works to empower kids to lead good lives with a good education and good values. Kids stay after school until around 5 p.m. and do their homework as well as other enrichment activities. Then we saw one public school where this takes place, called Neve Amram. We were greeted outside by a group of kids drumming outside, specifically for our visit, and they were great. After their performance went inside the school and a choir and a mandolin orchestra sang/performed for us. Following those performances, we met with Vela, the principal, and she described the school and their lunch ‘n learn program for us. She believes that every child should receive a music education, and she received funding for music classes that take place during the day. As a result, she receives requests from families outside of the neighborhood zone who want their children to attend that school and none other. The teachers at the school are very dedicated and have close relationships with the students. Vela described the Lunch ‘n Learn program, which with 50 students (out of 400) is a very successful program at Neve Amram. Many families, she reported, decline to enroll their children in the program in 1st grade when it starts, and then comes 4th grade and they realize its benefits, and once enrolled, the families say “wow, we wish our child had started this in first grade.” We were told the numerous stories of individual children whose grades soared after enrolling in the program, as they receive homework help there. Vela explained that she only allows teachers from her school who know the kids to participate in the Lunch ‘n Learn. At any rate, they also have other activities such as art enrichment; we visited a class that was making jewelry, and one of the students made a necklace for Ima. When we visited the various classrooms, Yisrael would ask the kids if they love the enrichment program and their teachers, and the enthusiastically shouted “yes.” Though the program is geared towards families of lower economic backgrounds, it is considered by the school and students alike as a prestigious program and a great opportunity, and all of the students were extremely happy to be there. After hearing about all of the atrocities of Israeli education, it was amazing to see a school that’s doing well and promising a bright future for its students. I was extremely impressed with the environment they’ve created.
I’ll go into more detail later, but we hung out on the lowest point on Earth last night and this morning, and we’re spending Shabbat in Jerusalem .