Tag Archives: volunteer

Building Bridges in the Middle East

It’s no secret that there is a lot of tension between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. However, stories about peaceful encounters and coexistence rarely make the headlines.

This month, El HaLev instructors taught a self-defense course to a group of Arab women from East Jerusalem. Since most of the staff does not speak Arabic, they used a translator.

The following quotes were said by the women at the course graduation:

“Before this course I never dared to walk alone. Not anywhere at any time. I was just too afraid. Today I walk alone and feel confident and strong. How liberating!”

“At first I was embarrassed to work with men in the room, but after the first day I understood how tremendously important it was for us to fight against a realistic attacker. I thank the men so much for giving us this gift.”

Thank you for giving me permission to say NO and teaching me to use it with strength and purpose.”

The volunteer assistant shared this:

Despite the language barrier and cultural differences, the women remind me a lot of the Jewish women I took the course with at El HaLev two years ago. They’re in denial, but at the same time, curious. Shy but daring. I feel that the similarities by far outweigh the differences.

I came to IMPACT after I was attacked by an Arab man in my neighborhood. I survived the attack, but like most victims, awaited his return. IMPACT helped me feel my strength and realize my true abilities.

And now, here I am surrounded by shouts in Arabic, the very words which failed me when it mattered most. But soon I learned to shout the way I didn’t know back then.

The level of trust, intimacy and friendship between the women and the team of instructors has helped me, more than anything, to renew my own trust in mankind. There were moments in which we glimpsed that perhaps, under different circumstances, we could have been friends.

Teaching self-defense to women from east Jerusalem  serves as a reminder for what we stand for: empowering women, regardless of age, color, size, nationality or political background. The first step to fighting violence against women is accepting that every woman deserves to know how to defend herself. When we focus on our similarities rather than our differences, we find that we are not alone.

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under IMPACT, Violence Prevention, Women Empowerment

Go, Erin! Go, Erin!

Here at El HaLev, we had the privilege of hosting the Adventure Philanthropist Erin Michelson, on her trip around the world where she will volunteer for various communities and organizations. During her visit, we discussed philanthropy, self-defense and fashion.

Erin Michelson appeared at El HaLev with her flaming red hair dyed blond, but her bright orange trousers reflected her fiery personality. She waited patiently on the sofa, a small suitcase at her side. “The suitcase is my home,” she said with a smile, “Isn’t it crazy? I lost my suitcase Lebanon for two and a half days, and when I looked at my backpack I thought ‘Everything I own is in that backpack”.

Erin is a charming and confident woman. Seven months ago she left her business, her home and her cozy life to travel for two years, volunteering and donating all over the world. “I had a couple of weeks off last summer, so I decided to take a trip,” she recalls how it all started, “I threw my stuff in the car and drove away. I was having so much fun – the views, the open spaces, the freedom – I thought, I could just do this for the rest of my life. And then it hit me – that I can do this for the rest of my life.”

Erin Michelson (right) and Yudit Sidikman, El HaLev's CEO

Erin took all her savings which were previously intended for buying a house, and put them towards funding her trip. “I got rid of everything. I closed my consulting business, sold the car, gave away my clothes,” Erin told us. She opened up a Fund with the money she raised selling her belongings, over twenty five thousand Dollars. She donates the money to the myriad projects and organizations she volunteers for.

While in the Philippines, Erin worked on a project building houses for the homeless, literally putting a roof over someone’s head. “I didn’t buy a house, but somebody got a house,” she laughs. In Laus, Erin took part in a project in which the children of the village receive their first book, and later decided to donate money towards building a library.

By the time she arrived in Israel, Erin had been to nineteen different countries including Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Cambodia. During ten days in Israel, Erin volunteered at El HaLev, and kept busy updating her website www.goeringo.com, giving fundraising advice for NPOs and writing a book. So how does she have time to travel? “Well, I took a shuttle from the airport so I saw Jerusalem on the way,” she joked.

Erin heard of El HaLev after completing an IMPACT course in San Francisco. IMPACT is a unique self-defense workshop, considered to be one of the most effective strategies for prevention of sexual harassment. “I decided it would be a good idea to learn self-defense in preparation for my trip,” Erin said, “and it was a life-altering experience.” Erin, who firmly believes in studying self-defense, and specifically in the IMPACT strategy, has donated scholarships for this course to two women in the United States. Through IMPACT, Erin became familiar with El HaLev, the only organization in Israel which offers IMPACT courses to women and teenagers.

Erin says she doesn’t miss much about her life in the States. “My friends and family didn’t live nearby anyway, but I’m still in touch with them over the Internet.” Her clothing style, however, has been affected by her adventure. “I try to dress up really modestly now, because I try to be inconspicuous,” she commented. “After I lost my suitcase, I had to buy a few clothes, and I picked up a brown shirt – I would never buy something brown, but I thought ‘maybe it won’t look dirty.'”

Erin is headed for Africa next, and as for the future, there’s no telling what lies ahead. “I won’t necessarily go back to the US,” she said, “I don’t know where I’ll be at the end of the trip, because I don’t think you can do a trip like this and not come out a changed person. I don’t have plans for the future – I’m waiting for life to surprise me.”

Written by Noa Raanan. Translated by Liora Halevi.

Leave a comment

Filed under IMPACT, Noa Raanan, Philanthropy, Violence Prevention, Women Empowerment