By KC Kurz, Mitzvah Corps Israel 2016 Participant
Ifs, ideals, and identity.
Every second of every day, I have been asking myself these questions. What if? What if I had grown up in Israel, spoke fluent Hebrew, and had Israeli parents? What ideals fit my beliefs – from other cultures, from Judaism? Who am I? And how does this trip affect my identity? As an American, as a Jew?
At Lotem, an organization we visited last week, our new friend and tour guide Roz told us he never thought about ifs. He couldn’t think about what if something was different for handicapped people in the world, because he had to think about what he had. As we have been touring Israel and embracing tikkun olam, the idea of performing acts of kindness to repair the world, I keep finding myself coming back to what Roz said. No ifs.
July 10th was the first day I felt the shift from education to action. We saw the benefits of our work immediately.
We went to meet the children of asylum-seeking parents at a local kindergarten. There were about 25 kids and 1-2 caretakers in 1 apartment, for up to 14 hours a day. That is roughly a half hour of attention for each child a day, not including time for meals, pick-up and arrival, and extra time for the babies. The only way to provide equal attention is by turning on the TV, for the entire day.
We stood outside of the apartment, waiting for the kids. They came out in a straight line, holding onto the shoulders of the person in front of them. You could hear them laughing long before you could see them. When they got outside, they each picked a big kid to walk with. Early on, a little girl pointed to me. We spoke the little Hebrew I know: how are you, what is your name, I’m KC. As we were walking, we pointed at signs and told each other what colors they were, and if cars were gadol (big) or katan (small). I started to question the legitimacy of the term “language gap,” if it is a real barrier or if it is a form of self consciousness that comes with age.
As we were walking to the park, a man in a van driving by started yelling at the manager of the preschool, Naama. I didn’t know what he said, but I understood Naama’s response. She told him to be quiet and have a good morning. After, one of our madrichim asked her what the man in the van said, and Naama replied, “Take them back to where they came from. Not here.”
To be perfectly honest, I stopped walking out of shock, but a little hand grabbed mine and pulled me along. I have always believed in the innocence of children. No child has control of the circumstances they are in. They have no knowledge of what prejudice or racism is. So how could this man take such a short amount of time to teach these kids what these things look like?
Now I am back to thinking in ifs. The most obvious and ideal “if” is that these kids aren’t living in the circumstances they are living in, that their parents don’t have to work so many hours a day, that their home countries didn’t force them to leave. But what if that man’s Israel-born child could have a play date with an asylum-seeking child? What if the man in the van could play with the kids like we did? Would that be enough to prove to him the innocence of these children?
I spent my time at the park playing with Odana. We spun around in circles, danced, dipped, and laughed. I tried speaking to her in tiny bits of Hebrew, and she repeated every word I said in English, particularly “dizzy.” She held on to me so tight the entire walk back and gave me hundreds of kisses before finally saying l’hitraot, see ya later, and running away.
I couldn’t say if we made a long term impact on these kids. Odana may have already forgotten me, but IF she didn’t, I hope she remembers being out on the playground, in the sun, laughing.