Day 29 - Netzach - Jade Cohen
Tel Aviv has always existed in my mind in a very specific way: fast paced, blunt Israelis and filled with Shuk lollies. In truth, I wasn’t totally surprised when my experience today impugned those stereotypes - Jewish life in Israel is incredibly multifaceted, as we have learnt throughout our IST experience. However, the unity prevalent within Tel Aviv’s diverse society was certainly a surprise for me - in the best possible way.
This morning we were treated to a luxurious sleep in which endowed us with much needed energy for the exciting day ahead. Okay... 8:00 isn’t exactly a sleep in, but after four weeks of rising before the sun, our relatively late wake up struck us as a rarity. As always, prayers offered us an interesting opportunity to reflect and debate the intricacies of Judaism; however, this was cut short as Netzach gathered to create get-well-soon cards for one of our madrachim, Adam Cohen (AKA Mr British Guy) who had just undergone surgery after a little slip in the Old City. With a multitude of coloured pens and paper to choose from, we set to work on our cards wishing Adam a speedy recovery. Familiar piano tunes circulated the lobby and although they gnawed at our concentration, Ely’s musical prowess made for a pleasant atmosphere.
Upon completing our cards, we hopped on the buses and set out to Shuk HaCarmel. The day began with a taste tour of the market, exposing Israeli culture through food and drinks. From halva and dolmades, to Rambam-inspired Yemenite health foods - everything we tried provided insight into the diversity prevalent in Israeli society. (It also tasted really good.) We stopped at the entrance of the Shuk while we listened to an Israeli busker. Within minutes, our entire group was dancing and singing along to his rendition of “Happy” whilst tourists and locals watched and some even joined in. We then ventured to Chaim Nachman Bialik’s house, where we learnt about the rich history of Tel Aviv as a cumulation of old and new.
Our next segment of the day was the highly anticipated free time. After an hour of bargaining with Israelis (often unsuccessfully), we returned to the buses with a plethora of cultural trinkets, destined to break at the bottom of our suitcases. From there, we split into our options: a graffiti tour of Tel Aviv’s street art, learning about Israel’s history at the renowned Palmach museum, an introduction to Magen David Adom and the option I chose, a visit to Save a Child’s Heart.
Arriving at the Save a Child’s Heart centre was unexpectedly comfortable, juxtaposing the cold hospital vibe that I had in mind. The walls were plastered with colourful pictures and the smiling faces of the kids radiated joy. Brianna, a volunteer at Save a Child’s Heart, prepared us with a brief explanation of the organisation. We were told about it’s inspiring purpose: to provide life-saving cardiac care for children, regardless of their race, religion, gender or any other factor. Brianna explained that children from across the globe are brought to the facility, and the facility trains medical professionals and sends them into areas where healthcare is inaccessible. We learnt that one in a hundred people are born with heart defects of varying severity and that organisations like Save a Child’s Heart are often the difference between life and death. I began to feel the gravity of where we were. This merely intensified as we began to engage with the purpose of our activity - entertaining the children at the facility.
Boys and girls from Ethiopia, Tanzania, Iraq, Gaza and countless other places around the globe greeted us with warm smiles. A little boy, Ali, who was about three years old, looked at me with wide eyes. Unsure of how to respond, I scoured my brain for any means of communication. Even if he was old enough to speak properly, relying on my nonexistent knowledge of African languages wasn’t an option. Instead I put on a silly expression of surprise and hoped for the best. This surprise became genuine as Ali began to smile, which grew into joyful laughter. At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to pick our favourite IST moment and I’ve always thought that choosing one highlight is impossible. After weeks of fostering friendships, old and new alike, bonding as a year group, learning and challenging interesting ideas - one moment seems too tiny to capture so much. However, seeing Ali’s smile and having the opportunity to be part of that happiness, that is a moment that will stick with me forever.
After what felt like mere seconds, we were told that it was time to leave and that we needed to say our goodbyes. Endless hugs and shrieks of “I’ll just be a minute” ensued until we were herded outside and onto the bus. I felt so privileged to listen to my friends’ stories, describing the children that they met and their lives. Cassie and Noa shared the story of Naifat, a seven year old girl from Ethiopia. Despite being released from hospital yesterday, she spent her time with us dancing, playing and inspiring us with her enthusiasm.
With our chatter gradually fading away, I started to think about my own experience. As someone who was born with a heart defect, I’ve always regarded it as unlucky. My open heart surgeries were scary and I felt resentful for the things that it stopped me from doing. However, today made me realise how lucky I truly am. I live in a country where healthcare is accessible, with a family and community that cares about me. We were told that the children that we met had received cards from Moriah students wishing them a speedy recovery several weeks ago. I couldn’t help but think about the cards that still sit in a box in my room, from my Year One class, wishing me well for my first open heart surgery. And, of course, the cards we had made for Adam wishing him well for his arm surgery. Tikkun Olam, the concept of healing the world, is a central idea in Judaism. However, in meeting children from all over the world, who emanated happiness despite the difficulties that they encountered, we were able to see how Tikkun Olam extends beyond Judaism. Get well soon cards might seem like a small gesture but they act as a manifestation of the kindness that we can all exercise in order to make our world a better, more caring place.
Today’s exploration of Tel Aviv culture was eye-opening in teaching us the value of embracing customs and diversity. But more than that, today showed me that there is so much that brings people together and doing something as simple as making someone else smile can transcend the divides between us.
As the day drew to a close, we returned to the hotel for a relaxing movie night and board games. Although we were all so exhausted from the day’s intensity, we were incredibly grateful for every moment.