As a Fishel fellow, I was placed in India with JDC Entwine Multi-Week Global Jewish Service Corps with Gabriel Project Mumbai, and I am now working in Berlin as a JDC Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps fellow.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Refugees, Neo-Nazis, and Jews

This weekend, I was fortunate enough to help with a project for Mitzvah Day, a day of volunteer service organized by Jewish communities around the world.  For our project, we decided to team up with a synagogue community to open up a children’s room in a newly established refugee center in Berlin.
This refugee center (formerly a school building) opened a few months ago in Hellersdorf, an area notorious for right-wing extremist, neo-Nazi activity.  Not surprisingly, these refugees who from Syria, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Serbia, and Bosnia were met by weeks of protests.  Clearly, it hasn't been easy for the residents of the refugee center.

Photo from protest a few months ago:

I organized a havdalah program for yesterday evening so that families from our Bambinim center could come and enjoy a social, Jewish event while baking challah for the refugee families as a way for our community to welcome them to Berlin.  We baked 60 challot, which we brought over to the refugee center early this morning.


Preparing the challah dough

Making challah for the refugees

Challah baking!

About 50 children live at the refugee center, and there was nowhere for them to play and no toys even to play with, so we collected toys and monetary donations from families over the past month at Bambinim.  The money went towards more materials for the children’s room, which volunteers painted and set up this morning. 

When I arrived at the center, I was immediately greeted by the kids, who wanted any attention I was willing to give them.  One boy ran up to me and gave me a hug out of nowhere.  Another boy wanted to show off his English and kept finding me throughout the day to ask, “How are you?”  A girl from Bosnia handed me a ping-pong paddle and tried to speak to me in every language she knew (of which I knew none) while we played ping-pong. 

We brought along supplies for face painting and glitter tattoos, which the kids loved.  They kept coming back for more and more until their arms were covered in glittery butterfly and lizard tattoos, and they proudly showed them off to everybody. 

Spider-man was obviously very popular 

He likes my challah!

It was amazing to see the kids playing in their new room at the center.  Politics aside, these people came here for the chance at a better life and to escape violence and atrocities in their home countries, and they deserve that chance.  They didn’t receive the warmest welcome to Berlin, so I'm glad we were able to change that. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Guten Tag!

Guten tag from Berlin!  This blog is now moving on from my India experiences to the next chapter of this adventure- a year in Germany.  Today marks one week since I arrived, and I am loving it so far.  Since this week has been a whirlwind of new experiences, new people, and a new job, I figured I would provide my top 5 highlights from the week (sorry for the length- it was a busy week!!):

1.    Bambinim: This year I will be working at Bambinim, a center that offers Jewish programming for families with young children (ages 0-6).  This week, I attended 4 different Bambinim classes.  The kids did arts and crafts, sang songs, baked challah, and played games.   The classes are divided into German, Israeli, and Russian families (each on a different day), and the teachers speak to the kids in their native language.  Of course, I was only really able to speak to the Israeli kids, but since they’re so young and speak basic Hebrew, maybe my Hebrew will improve this year!  Here are some photos from the Israeli class:

Aleph Bet Bingo

Shabbat candlestick holders

2.    Bee-keeping for Rosh Hashanah: Liora (the other JSC Germany fellow) and I decided to go to a honey harvesting event in the spirit of Rosh Hashanah.  The event took place at a beautiful urban garden.  We went to the beehives and took some sheets of honeycomb (they leave most of it for the bees), scraped the wax off, put the sheets in a centrifuge, and then filled jars with the final product. We even picked some apples from the garden to have with our honey to have a real Rosh Hashanah celebration.  The people were really nice, and there was a woman there who went to UCLA- small world! Here are some photos from the day:

      3.     Soccer tournament: I got an email from a sports club saying that they needed extra players for an all-day soccer tournament, and since I miss playing, I agreed to go.  They told me there would be other girls, but out of the 100+ people there, I was the ONLY girl.  The teams were all  intense- they had matching uniforms and cheering fans, and they were playing dirty.  But my team was relaxed and just wanted to have a good time, so we just laughed at the competitive players.  The boys were of course stronger than me, and these 2 guys kept shoving and elbowing me, so I shoved them back and managed to score 2 goals on them- suckers!  I made friends with the 3 guys on my team, and we got free beer at the end (so typical- everything in Germany involves beer).

4.     Alternative Shabbat: Last night, I went to an alternative potluck Shabbat, led by a group of young Jewish Berliners.  When I got to the place, I was looking around for the group, and a random guy came up to me and just said, “Follow me.”  I followed him up a staircase to a dimly-lit room, where people were sitting on the ground around some candles.  We sang Shabbat songs, accompanied by several instruments, including some weird accordion-piano thing, and then we had dinner.  It was definitely an interesting, alternative experience!

On my way home, I stumbled upon a bunch of people watching the Bayern-Chelsea game outside!

5.     Exploring Berlin: Anna, a German girl who works at Bambinim, has been great about showing us different areas.  I didn’t realize what a cool city Berlin is!  It’s so artsy and alternative, and Liora and I keep saying that everywhere we go, we feel like we’re in fairy tale land.  Everybody is outside, taking advantage of the good weather, and people sit together at outdoor cafes and beer gardens until late at night.  We checked out a few beer gardens already.  In one of them, a fox walked right in!  A few days ago, Liora and I did a free walking tour of the city to see all the touristy sites, which I really enjoyed.  There is so much history here- you feel it everywhere you go.  

Brandenburg Gate

Holocaust memorial

Berlin Wall

Tree huggers!

At the park near my apartment

Beer garden in the park!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What We Can Do to Help

The hardest part about leaving India was saying goodbye to my students who I got really close to these past 2 months.  Knowing that I’ll never see any of them again and won’t know what becomes of their lives is devastating.  But I am also hopeful for their futures and thankful that they have such a fantastic organization behind them to help propel them forward with their studies.

Many people have been asking me if there are ways that they can help, and returning home, I knew I had to do something to continue supporting these kids, so I set up a fundraising page that everybody can contribute to.  Together, we can really make an impact.  It only costs $36 to sponsor a child for an entire year, which includes education costs, meals, and housing (for kids who come from rural villages).  My goal is to raise enough money between all of us to sponsor an entire literary center ($909).  My students changed my life, and I know they touched many of your lives.  Together, we can help change their lives!
Here is the link to the fundraising page:

And here are some photos of them from my last few days there because they're just too cute to not share: