Last Saturday, at noon, English teacher Orit Ibn Chen and 22-year-old Edward were standing in the yard of Orit's house in Rishon Lezion.
Every Israeli who lives here knows the security drama that took place in the next few minutes, but for Edward, who came from England, the sight that unfolded before their eyes was new.
"Suddenly, alarms sounded, and we saw in the sky, right above us, interceptions of an Iron Dome," recalls Orit.
"Immediately we entered the house and ran to the hospital, along with my husband and the children.
Luckily for us, Edward arranged the protected room in advance, and we all had a very pleasant stay there."
Edward Daniel Shalom, a Jew from London, has been living with Orit (51) and Len in her apartment for the past month and a half. He came a year ago to the school where Orit teaches in Rishon Lezion, as part of the special "Teachers' Journey" project, and until he moved to her house he lived in a shared apartment that was assigned to him On behalf of the project in the center of the country.
At a group meal at Kylie's house.
"I have a magnetic frequency that connects me to them", photo: from the family album
"Teachers' Trip", by the Masa organization, was launched 13 years ago, and as part of it, each year about 160 Jewish young men and women from around the world come to Israel to teach English in schools throughout the country, as reinforcements for Israeli teachers, for ten months.
So far, more than 1,000 young people have participated in the project, some of them stayed in Israel, made aliyah, and even married Israeli spouses.
About a third of the teachers who participate each year, 60 in number, come to Israel through the Israeli Experience Company, which is a subsidiary of the Jewish Agency, which operates the program, with the assistance of the Ministry of Education.
"Edward was really loud with the interceptions," recalls Orit.
"He received a lot of worried calls from his friends, and reassured them. He wasn't afraid at all. He decided to stay in Israel after he finished teaching at my school, and now he's looking for a job and already feels Israeli in everything."
Two days earlier, on Thursday at noon, Erika Hillel and her family also arrived at Orit.
"I came to Israel from the USA ten years ago, as part of a 'teachers' trip', to teach English here," says Erika (34).
I married an Israeli guy here, and I am happy.
The connection with Orit helped me a lot to decide that Israel is the place I want to stay and raise my children."
Orit looks at Erica with wet eyes.
"What fun to hear. We went to the beach together, and then we came back for a great lunch at my place, with the famous chicken cooked by my husband, Assaf (51), who is a finance manager. There were also salads and rice and sweet potatoes, and lots of other dishes. Erica and the other young Jews who came in the last decade protested." To serve as English teachers at my school - they all entered my heart, and they are all members of my family.
Erica: "Girls who were with me in the project always told me that it was nice to have Orit, because they didn't have one like her. Orit was at my wedding and births. She became an integral part of my life. Without her, I don't know how I would manage in the Israeli bureaucracy."
"It became my life's work. I opened my home to them, and some of them actually lived with me for long periods. Along with my family members, I did not miss a single wedding of the young people - even if it took place abroad.
I am with them in all the joys, sadness and challenges of life.
They really became part of my family, and that makes me happy."
together around the holiday table
Orit has been teaching English for 32 years and serves as the language coordinator at the "Reot" elementary school in Rishon Lezion.
A sabrite who taught herself English, even as a child.
"I started learning English in the fifth grade, and even then I was very attached to the language. I remember sitting down with a tape recorder, recording songs in English and starting to write the words by ear. Then I ran to the dictionary and found word after word - and that's how I learned. Really by myself. I also started writing songs in English, And in high school I read books in English. And you won't believe it: on my first Purim as a teacher I dressed up as an English flag."
The first to arrive as part of the "Teachers' Trip", to strengthen the English trend at Orit's school, were Erica Hillel and Jason Butler.
Erica was then 24 years old, from New York, and Jason was 22 years old who landed from Florida.
"Our meeting was love at first sight," shines Orit.
"I heard two young men speak amazing English, and I drooled with envy. I thought to myself that I too would be happy to speak like them. And the truth is that these guys improved my English. Before they arrived, with whom could I have a fluent conversation in English? With my students?
"For me, it was a win-win situation. Thanks to the young teachers in the project, who are called teaching colleagues, I improved my English tremendously. Many of my Israeli students who hear me speak say to me today in amazement: 'What, you weren't born in the USA?'
I answer that absolutely not - I was born in Assaf Harofeh.
"As part of the project, care is taken to house the young teachers in an apartment in the center of the city. Erika lives with five or six other girls, who also came as volunteers for a year in the project. Immediately when I met her, we formed an excellent connection. Then the Tishrei holidays came, and I thought: what will she and Jason do alone In a foreign city? After all, they don't have family here, and you have to remember that they left everything behind and basically devoted themselves to my students.
"So I decided to invite them to my house for the holiday table. I won't forget it - they both came, and Erica brought two more of her friends from the project, who worked at another school but lived with her in the shared apartment. He was very happy.
"I have three lovely children: Ofir (24), an electrical engineering student, Ariel (20), a soldier, and Opal (14), a student. I remember that after we finished eating, Erica and her friends sat down with my daughters, who were still little girls, On the bed in the room. My daughters didn't speak English, and Erika and her friends didn't know Hebrew yet, yet they all connected immediately. Without any language barrier. They braided my daughters and played with them, then just started dancing together. It was a lovely sight."
Orit and her children at the wedding of volunteer Erika, held in Tel Aviv.
"It became my life's work, I opened my home to them", photo: courtesy of those photographed
The relationship between Orit and Erica slowly grew stronger.
Erica, who is currently pregnant with her third, recalls that after two months in Israel she decided to immigrate to Israel.
She is married to Gal Hillel, a civil engineer whom she met in Tel Aviv.
They live in the settlement of Lehavim in the south with their two children: Michael (6), who is entering first grade this year, and Ben (2.5).
"I came to the ``Teachers' Journey'' project a decade ago, after a year earlier I traveled in Israel as part of the ``Discovery'' project. When I returned to the US, I heard about the special program that allows English speakers to teach Israeli children in Israel, and I realized that in order to participate you don't have to be qualified as teachers.
I was enthusiastic and decided that I wanted to return to Israel, volunteer and teach children my mother tongue.
"I came here again, and from my first meeting with Orit, at her school, the connection between us was excellent. She immediately invited me to her house after school, to have lunch with her, and on one of our free days we sat in a cafe and had breakfast as a couple - something that has become our tradition too Once upon a time.
"I met Gal, my husband, eight months after I arrived in Israel. Orit had a listening ear for everything, and I also shared personal things with her, and of course I talked to her when I encountered some problem with the project. Orit is the icing on my cake.
"Girls who were with me in the project always told me that it was nice to have Orit, because they didn't have one of their own. Orit was a guest at my wedding and after I gave birth and at all the joys. She became an integral part of my life, and I am very happy.
"She and Gal helped me a lot with the whole aliyah thing. I don't know how I would have managed without them in the Israeli bureaucracy. I didn't know anything at first, and needless to say, I still didn't know Hebrew that well. Today I speak well."
Do you feel that you managed to integrate well in Israel?
Do you feel that you managed to integrate well in Israel?
"Definitely. Really, really, really. Today I am an English teacher and 8th grade teacher at the 'Branco Weiss' school in Strings. I love my family, my job and our English team, which is like a family. Obviously, I miss my real family very much in the USA.
I try every year to fly to visit.
This summer I didn't make it, because of my pregnancy, and it's a bit difficult for me in the meantime.
My parents come here from time to time to visit, and we are of course in constant contact on Skype and WhatsApp."
Do you also recommend others to come to the project?
Do you also recommend others to come to the project?
"Sure. It's a real life changer."
Orit: "I am happy that Erica immigrated and decided to live in Israel. It is an integral part of this great project. There is a matter of Zionism and love of the land here, and the immigration of young Jews is part of that. After Erica finished her year of volunteering with me, she studied for a master's degree in education at the University Tel Aviv, and then she returned to work for us, at the school, as a part-time English teacher. I was just elated inside at the knowledge that she was continuing with me, and that I was about to receive two more new young teachers from the project. During the long vacation, I was really looking forward to them."
Orit in her house.
"My students ask in amazement: 'What, you weren't born in the USA?'
I answer that absolutely not - I was born in Assaf Harofeh", photo: Efrat Eshel
What attracts you so much about the young teachers who come to you from abroad?
What attracts you so much about the young teachers who come to you from abroad?
"That's the million dollar question. I don't know the answer. I probably have some frequency, a magnetic field, that just connects me to these guys. I'm a person whose heart is very difficult to get into. I've been through several disappointments and heartbreaks in my life. But when someone gets into my heart - wow , this is until the end."
Still, your relationship is very unusual and unique with those who come to teach with you. I doubt if there is another teacher like you in the whole country.
Still, your relationship is very unusual and unique with those who come to teach with you.
I doubt if there is another teacher like you in the whole country.
"True, and a lot of people tell me that. I thought from the beginning about the young teachers who arrive, how they leave behind their homes, their families, the comfort, their room, the whole supportive environment - and come here. And voluntarily. It immediately evoked emotion in me I'm motherly towards them. So I'm very inclusive of these guys, if only for the fact that they're alone in a new country. I'm with them. My feelings for them run high."
An experience trip to Liverpool
After Erika and Jason, Willa Olston Mason, born in England, and Solomon Meltzer, born in New York - both 34 years old today - came to Orit.
"It was the holiday of Sukkot at the time, and I was on a family trip to Eilat. At the hotel, I found out that we had one spare bed. I immediately asked Havila and Solomon if one of them would like to join us in Eilat. Havila immediately jumped at it. She took a bus from Rashalaz and came to us.
I was happy about that.
"At night, she and I went out to hang out at a pub in Eilat. We sat for two hours over a good cocktail, and Willa poured her heart out to me. She told me personal things - and I listened. Then, on Purim, the year that Willa was in the project, we went to England to meet her parents. We slept with them, and I keep in touch with them to this day. Every Shabbat we send mutual family greetings."
Solomon immigrated to Israel at the end of his year of volunteering, and even enlisted in the IDF. "He volunteered for the Golani, and was actually a lone soldier," Orit explains. "We embraced him as a family member, and on weekends, when he went on vacation, a warm home was waiting for him at our place.
We received a sum of NIS 1,200 per month from the army for this, which we immediately transferred to Solomon, so that he can enjoy himself and have fun."
She stops her flowing speech for a moment and her eyes narrow: "Solomon left Israel to return to the US right before the corona virus, after he got a job as a teacher in Miami.
It was a very difficult thing for me.
We were all very attached to him, me and all my family members.
On the other hand, I am happy for him that he has developed in life and that he has a good job today."
Orit: "I saw with Edward the interceptions of the missiles over my house. He was really calm about it, not afraid at all. He received worried calls from his friends and reassured them. He decided to stay in Israel, and now he is looking for a job and feels completely Israeli."
Eight years ago, Kylie Wessels Amit, now 33, also came to Orit from South Africa. "Kylie finished her project year here, then returned to her home in South Africa," says Orit.
"I didn't know that her dream the whole time was to settle in Israel. She called me one day from South Africa and told me about the idea of coming back here. I immediately told her: 'Come, with pleasure.' In the north, and my kids just love her. She's captivating.
"Every time we talked, Kylie and I alone, she started crying. The emotion overwhelmed her, and she really had a hard time talking. To make it easier for her, I suggested that she write the things to me in an email. And she did write: 'I shared with my mother, my sister and my friends about my dream of moving to Israel Settle here. Start a family'. When I read that I was surprised and happy.
"Kylie returned to South Africa, completed her master's degree there - and about five years ago made aliyah. Usually, when you immigrate to Israel, you receive an absorption basket from the state. Kylie did not want to live in a reception center and preferred to live alone. So I told her, 'Come, live with us.'
"Then we still lived as a family in a smaller apartment. My daughter, Opal, agreed to share her room with Kylie for eight months. They both got along great. Kylie was a member of our house, just like one of our children."
Still, there were no difficulties? The children didn't complain when a foreign girl suddenly moved in with them?
Still, there were no difficulties?
The children didn't complain when a foreign girl suddenly moved in with them?
"On the contrary, absolutely not. You should see what happens when Kylie comes here. Everyone jumps on her with hugs and kisses."
Orit's eyes are watering again.
"I love her so much. She found love in Israel, married an Israeli man named Danny a year and a half ago, and they live in Petah Tikva. Now she works as an English teacher at a high school in Tel Aviv, and I am very happy for her."
At Kylie's wedding, which was held in Israel, Orit and her family members came as distinguished guests.
And because the ceremony took place at the height of the Corona period, Kylie's family was not allowed to fly to Israel from South Africa.
"Kylie and Danny planned a big wedding, but because of the corona virus, it was postponed. In the end, they decided to hold the wedding in a synagogue in Tel Aviv, and Kylie's family saw everything live on Zoom. In April of this year, they held another wedding, in a joy hall in her room - and this time everyone came to rejoice with them." .
Orit makes sure to show up not only at the celebrations of her trainees that are held in Israel.
"Villa got married in England, and what do you think, that I will lose this happy occasion because of the distance? I traveled with my husband Asaf and the children to the wedding held in Liverpool, and we financed the tickets with our money. Asaf rented a large car there that drove the bride and groom, their parents and us, to the synagogue where The canopy was erected. After the wedding, we all went for a walk together, and we made it a very big experience."
How do the other teachers at your school react to your extraordinary investment? Don't they say you're crazy?
How do the other teachers at your school react to your extraordinary investment?
Don't they say you're crazy?
"Why not? They are very interested and very supportive of me. My best friend, who is also the deputy principal of the school, is a guest at our place a lot for 'Aal Hash', and she was here when the young teachers were as well. She became attached to them herself, and it warms the heart very much .
"They are also well received at school, and they are treated like teachers for everything. They are invited to teachers' parties, to activities, and they are an integral part of our team."
The CEO of the "Israeli Experience" company, Amos Harmon, claims that "Teachers' Journey" is one of the most significant and contributing educational programs to society in Israel. "This is through hundreds of teachers who teach thousands of students spoken English.
I must mention the immediate relationship created between the teachers, students and parents.
The young teachers have become household members in the neighborhoods where they teach, and they conduct all social interactions in spoken English - for the benefit of the students and the environment."
Ofer Gutman, CEO of Masa Organization: "The young people who come to Israel as part of the Teacher's Journey program are a force multiplier for the teaching of English in Israel, connect the Diaspora to Israeli youth, and even get to experience the country in a meaningful way as locals."
Orit is currently in the planning stages for the next school year.
"I build a personal program for each of my Israeli students, according to their level of English, and then I will transfer the more advanced students to the young teachers from abroad, to work in small groups of 5-10 students.
For me, this will allow me to make room in the classroom for the more difficult and more challenged students - and promote them."
Don't you get tired from year to year? Do you have the strength for another cycle of young and vibrant teaching colleagues?
Don't you get tired from year to year?
Do you have the strength for another cycle of young and vibrant teaching colleagues?
"The teaching profession wears rockets. I have to reinvent the wheel every time, and indeed combine some technology and pedagogical innovation, but the guys from abroad add salt and pepper, a kind of fluff that is so fun.
Every year, my students and I look forward to knowing who will arrive this year.
It gives added value and a special touch to teaching."
What is your position regarding the teachers' struggle? Are you one of those who are hurt by the sight of their paycheck at the end of every month?
What is your position regarding the teachers' struggle?
Are you one of those who are hurt by the sight of their paycheck at the end of every month?
"Yes, many times I am offended by my salary. I feel that it is unfair, what I receive compared to what I give and invest. But it is a profession that if you do not see a mission in it, a destination for a life with values - you have nothing to look for in it. It is true that there is no compatibility between What I get and what I do in the field, but I will never invest less because of it. No way.
"And there is another fundamental thing: because of the conditions, unfortunately, the Israeli education system also includes teachers who I would not want to teach my children and grandchildren in the future. If there is a higher remuneration, the entry threshold for this profession will rise, and everyone will benefit from it."
Orit proudly says that six of the 20 young people who came from abroad to teach English with her have already immigrated to Israel. "This is an exciting Zionist project, and I see it as a tremendous mission - that these young people will make aliyah and stay to live with us in Israel."
She receives a WhatsApp message on her mobile.
"We have a WhatsApp group for everyone who was here in the project. It's called 'Orith's Kids,' and I already have 20 'kids' from ten years old. Except for two, who for various reasons have less connected, all the rest are members of the group - and we are in continuous contact. Every day A birthday, every holiday, every Sabbath, and basically every day - we're in touch. It's great fun."
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