Last Wednesday, I completed my volunteering at the Belevav Shalem Yeshiva High School (Balbash) in Yeruham. There wasn't much happening for most of my classes, but the 9th grade class met in the morning, and most of them actually came to class. We did a classic conversation where Pini instructs everyone to ask us questions and we translate Hebrew/English according to the students' abilities. By us, I really mean me because Gabe was unfortunately sick. They asked me what I'm doing next year, one kid had a question about anti-Semitism, and, as usual, they asked me if I plan on making aliyah. Very Zionist kids. I finished off with my last lunch (star-shaped chicken nuggets!) and my last mincha there.
To reflect on my overall experience at the yeshiva, I think overall I am happy with the time I spent there. In many ways, I wish I was more involved with English there; I was only available two days a week and there were many days when class didn't meet. I'm not entirely sure that our presence there will have made a huge difference in any kid's test scores – though there was one day where we helped seniors as their oral bagrut was coming the next day. But there are a few things that came out of it: a) I'm sure they learned a fair amount of English from us, formally or informally, and having a native speaker help them with their work I'm sure was a treat for them; b) looking at this from a broader scope, I believe our presence there was good for the Israel-Diaspora relationship because whether or not they like it, there are Jews in the Diaspora and it is important that they have contact with us and learn the realities of Jews in galut (exile); c) I caught a telling glimpse of the educational system in Israel – and I've been told that a lot of what I saw can be compared to much of the country; and d) interacting with dati (religious) teenagers in Israel gave me a lot to think about in respect to my own worldview. That is a larger topic of conversation not for this post at the least.
We were told at the beginning of our stay in Yeruham by mayoral candidate Michael Bitton that we're not here to change or save the world. That is definitely true about my volunteering. Yet in more subtle ways, I believe that both the school and I benefitted from my participation in their academic program and school as a whole, and I hope to return to visit one day. Balbash is a special place that will remain a dear part of my Nativ experience.