Written by Dee Mack, Jerusalem office manager and participant on Shalem’s inaugural program ten years ago
In addition to Rosh Hashana, I love celebrating the secular new year. It gives me the chance to reflect back on time passed and look forward to things to come. This month, Shvat, I find myself looking back ten years to when I was a chanicha on Shalem, planting trees in Israel for the very first time.
Having never visited Israel before my year as a Shalem participant, I came with few expectations and loads of anticipation. I remember Tu B’Shvat as a special time for us. It marked the point in my year when I started to feel more comfortable and familiar with my surroundings in Israel.
The second semester, with its focus on volunteering, brought more interaction with Israelis and the opportunities to feel a part of something bigger. My volunteer placement was in a high school, teaching English to a group of Ethiopian immigrants who were still working on improving their Hebrew enough to join the mainstream classes. As it turned out, these students were not much younger then me and did not actually have an English class; however, I was given a classroom and an English book, and told to teach them English. I tried my best, but it became clear from the first day that the students would teach me much more then I could ever teach them. To this day, sitting in my office in Jerusalem, I remember the determination my “students” possessed as they tried to improve their Hebrew, the respect they had for their teachers (including me!), and above all their excitement as they watched me slowly become more and more comfortable with the environment around me.
On Tu B’Shvat we celebrate the first blossom of trees in Israel. It is the beginning of the start of spring, a time when we can all reflect on how far we have come since the year began with Rosh Hashana, and think about our hopes for the future. I hope that this year brings the same fulfillment and growth for this year’s Shalem participants as it did for me.