Naomi Farahan of Carmel, Indiana, is a rising senior at University High School. She is the founder and editor in chief of the U Post – her high school’s online publication, president of the Young Democrats Club and participates in a number of other activities. Naomi has a close connection to Israel and has always been an advocate for the country. This summer, she is traveling Israel with Young Judaea’s Discovery program, after receiving theHadassah Leaders of Tomorrow Award. This highly selective merit-based award gives two high school women the opportunity to receive full tuition for a four-week Young Judaea Teen Summer Program in Israel.
Now that I’m back home, I feel the full force of Nitzachon’s impact. I’m a different person – I feel it in the way I talk to people, in the way I take in my surroundings. I have grown. One of the most formative aspects of this summer was Special Interest Week.
During Special Interest Week, you are apart from your tour for four days. During this time, you join kids from other groups who have similar interests. I had the option to participate in “Gadna” army training, a “Sea-to-Sea” hike in the Galilee, and scuba diving, but ultimately chose Tikun Olam volunteering. These were four of the most important days of my summer.
The first community service opportunity was in a center for adults with Cerebral Palsy. This taught us about the power of body language. We spent much of our time touching hands, smiling, and singing songs. At one point that morning, my friend Dani and I caught each other laughing mindlessly, but we didn’t feel embarrassed. It wasn’t mocking or uncomfortable laughter, instead it was that the center’s members were so full of glee that it spilled over to us, making us giggle and smile. They were constantly radiating pure, genuine – and contagious – smiles. We learned from there honesty and joy.
That afternoon, we volunteered at an old age home. We were able to learn stories about the members’ childhoods as we went with them outdoors. We reminded them of their grandchildren. They reminded of us our grandparents back in the United States. We felt connected to one another on an individual level, showing how community service can help both those being served and those serving. This is one reason that community service is a crucial part of society. We are all connected therefore we must support one another.
The next day, we collected food and money for IDF soldiers in Gaza. We got as much as we put in. The harder we worked, the more we asked, the more people were willing to contribute. In some small way, we felt like we were contributing to the men and women who were giving so much to keep us alive.
For the last two days of our special interest week, we worked with a project through UJIA called the Ethiopian Bar/Bat Mitzvah Program. This allows Ethiopian children and British children to experience the milestone of becoming Bnai mitzvah side-by-side. As a part of the Tikun Olam program, we tried to add ruach, spirit, to the occasion by singing, dancing, and joining the celebration.
Throughout the week, I kept wondering about the purpose of volunteering. Who does it actually benefit? The adults with Cerebral Palsy see new volunteers every day. I am part of the masses of people who have come to paint and sing with them. I was one of many at the Ethiopian Bnai Mitzvah. In reality, community service benefits both parties in similar ways. I was touched in ways that are bigger than words, more profound than I can express in this blog.
During this week, there were so many people who opened their arms to me. They allowed me into their lives so that we could share a few moments of human connection disguised as service. In reality, I was not helping them. Rather, I was given the chance to look into myself and reflect upon what it means to be alive. I learned something that, theoretically, I should have known all along. Life is to be celebrated. There is so much to smile about. It should not be a rare thing to catch one another laughing. In addition, community service should not be an activity kept apart from our daily lives. It should be a part of our joyousness, a part of how we relate to one another. For these realizations, I am forever grateful to the Young Judaea Nitzachon program.