Shavua Tov from Beit She’an! This is my first post about my time volunteering in Beit She’an and the surrounding valley Emek HaMayanot (“Valley of the Springs”). During the next few months, we will continue to volunteer in the community, doing our best to fulfill the needs of the people who live here.

Sorry it’s been so long since an update, I’ll do my best to be more regular from now on. A version of this post will be distributed by P2K.

One of my favorite projects is our after-school chug “Cooking in English with OTZMA”. (There is no direct translation for the word “chug”, the closest I’ve come up with is “extracurricular activity”.) Like many of the things we do in Beit She’an, our program gives children the opportunity to interact with native English speakers, and to communicate with people who intuitively know the language. We have been told over and over that Beit She’an, as a city on the periphery, doesn’t have a single teacher whose first language is English. That isn’t to say that the teachers here aren’t qualified, far from it, but apparently the situation makes it difficult to help children learn to love the language.

The chug is run by three OTZMAnikim: myself, Rebecca Bigman, and Lindsay Strauss; along with a soldier, our good friend, Moriah Junger. To make it official our mentor here in Beit She’an, Chen Ben Ezra, got each of us our own apron with our names on it. Mine’s pink. Chen absolutely loves pointing that out whenever she can.

Our first week we made pizza with them, teaching them all of the ingredients in English and a few of the actions – like “to mix”. I’m fairly sure that Israel is the only country where children put olives on their pizza. Becca taught the kids a song about a moose that likes juice. Moriah acted as our translator and official cheerleader with Becca. Lindsay and myself baked the pizzas and ran the kitchen.

We played games and generally just tried to have as much fun as we could. It was challenging to get some of the kids to open up, but once they did, they were smiling from ear to ear.

The more we’ve cooked with the children, the more I’ve realized that the main purpose of the English cooking chug really isn’t teaching English. We’ve been told that the kids who attend our little program come from difficult homes. They benefit greatly from the love and attention we give them, even if it is only for two hours a week on a Tuesday.

We have run the program twice so far. The second week was “Breakfast for Dinner” – french toast and eggs. While things got pretty crazy, and we ate more than our fair share of eggshells, the kids seemed to love it as much as we do.

Volunteering can be tiring and working with children can be stressful. But it’s well worth it in my mind. The chance to make a difference in their lives, no matter how small, is worth the challenges involved.