By Jared Haime
After a tumultuous odyssey through the Holy Land, June 21 marked the near end of our journey (with June 22 reserved for a wrap-up class, followed by a day of beach, shopping, packing, and final dinner). We focused on efforts in community-building in Tel Aviv, specifically among refugees. The communities we discussed have fought tirelessly to secure their identity and status in their new home in Israel.
We met with the leaders of Our Lady of Valor Pastoral Center to learn about their work in the community. They provide mass services in 12 languages to 550 attendees regularly. The center also offers leadership and identity programs to the city’s immigrant teens. It was inspiring how they work to make the city a better place for everyone.
Afterward, Kodi Ellison, a friend of Sudanese activist Usumain Baraka, took us on a tour of the historic Neve Shaanan. The neighborhood was formerly one of the worst in the city, plagued by addiction and poverty, which drew poor refugees from around the world en masse looking to join Israel’s workforce. Even today, thousands have not gained refugee status despite the conditions of their arrival and standard of living. They are stuck in a state of being months away from facing deportation. Kodi pointed out how Neve Shaanan has been rapidly improving in recent years, such as the ever-changing purposes of public parks in the neighborhood and the juxtaposition of new and old buildings. We then walked toward Rothschild Boulevard, one of the nicest streets in Tel Aviv. It was surprisingly close to Neve Shaanan despite the huge wealth disparity between the two neighborhoods.
We had an incredibly insightful end of our time in Israel. Together, we have trekked to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Masada, Nazareth, the Dead Sea, to Kibbutz Keturah and finally, we are returning home stronger, wiser, and more likely to tell people we studied abroad in Israel without being asked. Toda Simon, Lori, Lenny, Yossi, and everyone that has led us along the way. Toda, friends.