Date: Wednesday December 13, 2017 at 3:42pm
I arrived in Israel in the early hours of the morning and instantly fell in love with the country. I stopped for a coffee in the airport and watched the world go by before heading to Abraham Hostel in the centre of Jerusalem. I unpacked and headed straight to a tour of Jerusalem with our guide Yan, a fascinating city steeped in history with so much to do and see.
Everyone said to me "you're volunteering, you have to do it properly and stay in a shared hostel". My first night didn't start off too well. Exhausted from travelling overnight, I thought I would sleep easy. Sharing with 5 other women was not my idea of fun. I didn't realise females could make many animal noises during the night. I felt like Old Mcdonald on his farm.
Off I marched to reception in the morning after a sleepless night, bleary eyed, hair like a bag of knitting, telling, or rather demanding, they help me. They were fantastic and found me a single room straight away, and laughingly overlooked my overdramatisation of the circumstances. I quickly learned Hebrew for drama queen. Abraham Hostel turned out to be fantastic place to stay and I made so many new friends.
That day I had my first taste of public transport in Jerusalem; if you don't sit down fast you will fall over when the driver pulls away! The driving is crazy. And it is the norm to sit next to a solider carrying his or hers weapon, travelling to their base. I was volunteering in a school for disadvantaged boys 12-18 in Jerusalem. My day started at 9am and despite the language barrier, it was a fantastic experience. The school is different from any school I have ever came across. Their attitude to the children is one of compassion and support. They believe that teenagers have the right to make mistakes.
The teachers and boys were very welcoming, however the dinner lady terrified me. She just shouted all the time. I never knew is she was angry at me or not, but her food was fantastic. I helped out in the garden, teaching the boys that tending to plants then selling them was a better way to make a living than through crime. I also helped with English lessons. The boys were high spirited and their English was very good. Their favourite topic of conversation was football. Sports lessons were good fun. Not being the most sporty of people I fell over one day, much to the boys delight.
They all pointed at me, danced and shouted 'SCOTLAND'. And the look of disgust on their faces when I told them about Haggis was priceless. They were not impressed by my level of Hebrew, as they told me on my last day. "Make sure you can talk better Hebrew when you come back." My morning greeting of Boker Tov was not enough to impress them.
On my days off I had plenty of time to explore Israel and experience the hospitality of the locals in Jerusalem. I visited Tel Aviv, Masada, floated in the dead sea and spent a day at Ein Gedi Nature Reserve; although I chose to sit by a waterfall and read my book, rather than join everyone hiking. 5 inch heels are too hard to hike in. I was lucky enough to experience Rosh Hashanah (New Year) during my stay. Israel is one of the friendliest countries I have ever visited.
I will be heading back to Israel next year, this time it will be 3 weeks on an Army base. I wonder how my demands of a single room will be met there. Somehow I think I will just have to get used to sharing.
I spent an afternoon at the Lone Solider Center in memory of Michael Levin. I was hosted by Ari Kalker (former Israeli Defence Solider) Director of Housing. The Lone Solider Center in Memory of Michael Levin was founded in 2009 by a group of former lone soldiers, aware of and concerned with the needs and struggles of the more than 6,300 lone soldiers serving in the IDF. Ari left the IDF 10 years ago. Ari himself was a lone soldier originally from New York. Ari is one of the founders of the Centre and looks after the Soldiers housing needs. Ari is in the process of setting up a post army programme to help with the transition back to Civvy Street.
I asked Ari to tell me all about the centre and the differences between our resettlement and resettlement in Israel.
To read more of the Meet the Team or the latest issue of New Challenge, New Beginnings follow the link below... https://www.bfrss.org.uk/Magazine/New-Challenge-New-Beginnings-November-2017.aspx