By Meredith van der Walde
(Summer Intern at Bakehila; 20-year-old college student from Massachusetts)
It's hard to believe that I have a little less than two weeks left in Israel and a mere five days remaining in the Bakehila office after today. Though I desperately want to avoid thinking about how soon I will be leaving this country, I cannot help but reflect on how quickly summer here has flown by.
My experience as an intern at Bakehila has been wonderful and quite unique. My internship was unlike many internships of my fellow program participants, who sat at the same desk in the same office each day. I am incredibly thankful that I had the chance to visit Bakehila's neighborhoods and schools, tutor at the summer program in Gilo, and interact to a large extent with Israeli children, teenagers, and volunteers. For the first month or so, each day was extremely different from the next. With such fond memories of and experiences over the past several weeks, it is difficult for me to feel at all discouraged, even when I remember all of the instances that I was lost in Jerusalem. Whenever I would visit a neighborhood or school for the first time, I seemed to lose my bearings instantly. Getting lost, however, enabled me to gain self-confidence, learn my way around the city, and feel empowered once I eventually found my way.
I am most grateful, however, that I had the opportunity to become friends with the pre-army, year of service volunteers, particularly those whom I volunteered with in Gilo. The volunteers are very close to my age; they are about a year to a year and a half younger than me. At the summer school, there were nine of them—five girls and four guys—all of who had been living and working together since the school year began in September. Not only was I the newcomer, but I was also the American newcomer who didn’t speak their primary language. Despite my seemingly outsider status, the volunteers were genuine and welcoming and didn’t hesitate to practice their English with me. I admire them for dedicating an entire year after high school to help children, and it was evident that the Shinshinim were passionate about the cause.
I connected with a few of the volunteers in particular, and I soon began to think of them as my actual friends. A couple of the volunteers came to the city center one night and we went out together, just as I normally would with my American friends on my program. I felt special—because I knew that they had come to this particular area of Jerusalem to visit me—and I felt that I was truly part of the group.
It is surreal to think that when I return home to America, I will have actual friends living across the world from me. What is even more surreal is that I became friends with these individuals before they entered the army. As of this week they completed their year of service as Shinshinim, and in the next couple of months, they will be beginning their service in the Israeli Defense Forces. The next time that I see them—whenever and wherever that may be—they will likely have completed their time in the army and will no longer be the same 18 and 19 year olds whom I met in Gilo.
My time at Bakehila has been an incredible learning and growing experience, and I like to think this is largely due to the people whom I have met during my internship. While in the office I have gotten to know the staff of Bakehila, and at the summer program in Gilo, I formed friendships with the children and particularly with the Shinshinim.