Friday, January 15, 2010

Baltimore Birthright-Taglit in Ashkelon

Birthright (Taglit) Visits Ashkelon: Jan 13th, 2010 Report from Maia Hoffman:

For the first time ever we had two buses full of Birthright students from Baltimore arrive in Ashkelon. Each bus went on a tour of Ashkelon, planned by the eight soldiers from Ashkelon who had accompanied the group from the beginning of their visit to Israel. This was the Ashkelonians opportunity to show their friends from Baltimore “their Ashkelon.”

Ashkelon soldier Dotan Amrani - tour of Ashkelon

After the bus tours everyone met up in the Michael Lapides Baltimore Park and the students were excited to play in the Lyn Stacie Getz Playground.

Taglit visit the Michael Lapides Baltimore Park and Lyn Stacie Getz Playground

After a few words about the Partnership they each got to choose from 5 volunteer activities and they were off….

Some went to the Halperin Senior Home for the Elderly and did one on arts and crafts projects with the seniors. Others went to the Dekel Elementary School, one of the tougher schools in Ashkelon, where they did “outdoor training activities” with the kids, and painted their playground. Others went to the City Farm in the middle of the City, which is used by schools to teach kids about the environment. The students helped get the farm ready for spring by preparing the ground for planting, helping out with the maintenance and joining in some renovation and beautification projects. And finally, some of the students got to help organize and design the Second Hand Store for needy and at risk teens in Ashkelon.

The backstage story of the connection of these Hillel Birthright buses from Goucher, Johns Hopkins, Towson and UMBC is as follows….

The Second Hand Store: The Youth Council in Ashkelon, which is the “executive committee” of AMEN (an Associated supported project) currently engages 5000 teen volunteers in Ashkelon. Before Baltimore started this program with the JDC in Ashkelon 5 years ago, there were only 800 teens volunteering and now Ashkelon is the model city for engaging youth in volunteerism. The Youth Council noticed that teens were getting in fights, getting expelled and being absent from school because their families couldn’t afford to buy them acceptable clothes.

The Youth Council began an initiative to open a store where these teens can come and buy brand new cool clothes and shoes for 1 shekel. "Hands on Tzedakah " (Boca Raton, Florida), Sakal and Lev Ohev helped to renovate and stock the store. The store has engaged and inspired top business people and designers to be a part of the project by donating clothes, shoes, toiletries. Everything costs around a shekel or two, and that the environment in the store is trendy so the kids don’t feel like “welfare cases.” How does it work? Simple… Kids who are under the care of Social Services, come to the store armed with special vouchers that have shekel amounts attached to them. That’s how they to do their shopping so it doesn’t actually cost them money.

Time off for fun, at the Second Hand Store

When Rabbi Jason Klein, the lead professional for the Baltimore Hillel Birthright buses heard about this project he immediately asked what they could bring. The students from Baltimore brought $1,000 worth of tennis shoes with them to Israel and spent another $300 on shoes when they got here. One group went to the store to stock the shoes they brought and lots of other stock that had arrived that week from generous donors, corporations, etc., This was an incredible experience to not only bring the merchandise but also have creative input as to how to present it, and lots of other merchandise in the store.

Unpacking and arranging shoes to be sold at the Second Hand Store

Proud of her shoe-stand display!

At the end of the day everyone met at the Youth Center where some of the students, along with Ashkelon volunteers, had been working hard to make lunch for the 100 plus students!

Lunch at the Ashkelon Youth Center

The response from the community has been overwhelming - that many students at one time spread out over the city of Ashkelon made a difference in the lives of children, students, the needy and the seniors.

The other added bonus to the day was that as the group spent the day in Ashkelon, the families of the Ashkelon soldiers could join in here and there during the day – this gave the Baltimoreans an additional opportunity to connect with the families of the soldiers they had been with for over a week! Two moms even showed up at the Park to greet the group with home-made cake! Just goes to show that Jewish moms are the same everywhere…..

Kol Hakavod to the Hillel Birthright students for what they did to enrich the lives of Ashkelonians, Kol Hakavod to the volunteers – kids, teens and parents throughout the Ashkelon who helped make the day happen! Yeshar Koach!

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