'הבלוג של ג'ואנה'

"הבלוג של ג'ואנה": ג'ואנה זו בחורה מקסימה בת 27, תושבת אנגליה, שהחליטה ביום בהיר אחד, לשהות ולהתנדב בכישורית במשך 6 שבועות. הצענו לה, ולשמחתנו היא הסכימה (תודה ג'ואנה!), לשתף גם אתכם בחוויות המיוחדות אשר עברו עליה כאן אצלנו. 
אתם מוזמנים לקרוא וליהנות (הבלוג נכתב באנגלית, כי זו שפת האם של ג'ואנה):

JOHANNAH’S KISHORIT BLOG – ENTRY 1: 20/10/2013

I first visited Kishorit in December 2012 whilst in Israel on my UJIA Birthright trip (tour operated by Israel Experts) - a life changing 10 days that ignited a totally unexpected connection to my Jewish identity and inspired me to move to Israel to work… and subsequently embark on my MASA Israel Journey programme.

When visiting Kishorit that first time, I was struck by three things:
a) the beautiful surroundings within the Galilean hills (and as if that isn’t enough, there are also breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea)
b) the calm, gentle and supportive atmosphere that was apparent amongst both members and staff
c) just how unique and special a place it is – unlike anything I had heard of, or visited, before
As a professional actress and musician, I have had the pleasure to facilitate some very worthwhile projects with a variety of groups of people in the UK alongside my own performance work (a few that spring to mind: Play in a Day at the Phoenix Theatre – a workshop for young people with Special Educational Needs; Music for the Memory – a not-for-profit organisation providing musical activities for people with dementia and their carers; Stay in Learning – an educational theatre show that toured special needs schools). Working on these kinds of projects, combined with personal experience of neurodiversity within my own family, meant that my visit to Kishorit was an exceptionally moving experience. To witness how independently the members – or “chaverim” (meaning “friends” in Hebrew) – are living, within the framework of a supportive Kibbutz environment, is quite revolutionary and a far cry from the social services available in the UK (that I am aware of).

So when planning my MASA Israel Journey with Maslul Ishi iTrack in the springtime of this year, they asked if there was anything I would particularly like to do during my time on the programme. I didn’t even pause for thought before replying: “there’s this amazing place in the Galil; it’s called Kishorit… if there’s any way you can help me arrange some volunteering up there…”

And here I am!

I have been living and volunteering here at Kishorit for a little over two weeks and can say that it is already proving to be unquestionably the most interesting, meaningful and important experience in the entire six months I have been in Israel so far (and possibly my entire life!) – in terms of both personal development and also in a broader sense of what I am able to give back to Israel and the people that live here.

So when the lovely Resource Development department invited me to their nice office with an enviable array of stationary and free coffee, to ask me to write a blog, I jumped at the opportunity; what better way to document my time here than by sharing my journey with you, the lovely reader. I’ll be covering everything from interviews with the chaverim who live here to Kibbutz living. And if there’s anything you would like to read about, or are curious to know, please do get in touch!

And just before I go… A special note to family and friends back in England:
WARNING: The street-wise London girl you once knew and loved, who thrived on the buzz of the big city, is M.I.A. - last seen living on a Kibbutz in the north of Israel… getting her hands dirty in the organic vegetable field, collecting eggs and making cheese. And furthermore… absolutely loving it.

(I can almost hear them choking on their afternoon tea and scones.)

More on that to come. ‘Til next time

JOHANNAH’S KISHORIT BLOG – Entry #2, 27/10/2013: “What’s in a name?” (Shakespeare)

With the arrival of my now 10-day-old niece, I have been thinking a lot about names and their meanings recently.

According to trusty Google Translate - a life saviour for me here in Israel - the direct translation of “Kishorit” from Hebrew to English is “Spindle”. And a quick Google search (believe it or not, this blog is not sponsored by Google; other search engines are available…) tells me that the Oxford dictionary defines a spindle as “a rod or pin serving as an axis… on which something revolves.”

At first, “Spindle” seemed merely to be a random choice of name for this kibbutz... You know, something chosen because it sounded nice, or after the name of the builder’s first pet fish. But the more I think about it, the more I can see a connection; Kishorit is the lynchpin of the lives of the chaverim.

Some hold down jobs outside of Kishorit, in nearby cities (such as Karmiel), while most work here on-site… everywhere from the kitchen to the organic vegetable garden, to the toy factory (check out their beautiful handicraft here:www.pasteltoys.com). Part of Kishorit’s philosophy is that “meaningful work with appropriate compensation gives life value and structure” and so each member is supported - with the help of their social workers and the staff - to find a job suited to them and their individual capabilities, should they so wish. It is not compulsory for the chaverim to secure employment but amazingly, in practice, over 97% do.

Day-to-day living is supported at Kishorit in a traditional kibbutz style. Meals are served in the “cheder ochel” (dining room) - a substantial proportion of the food served is organic and comes from Kishorit; from the yoghurts made from the goat’s milk (flavoured with strawberries grown here) to the delicious bread baked in the bakery. All the chaverim, volunteers and staff eat together and I especially enjoy lunchtime when people come from all corners of the kibbutz to sit “b’echad” (together).

Laundry, too, is a communal affair. And even though I am a strange phenomenon (someone who genuinely enjoys doing washing), I have managed to put my bizarre hobby on hold and visit the “cvisah” (laundry) to hand over my dirty smalls. The atmosphere between staff and chaverim is positive, but not patronising. The operation is organised to military precision with a bag and shelf system that to me, an outsider, seems impossible to understand but that obviously works – not so much as a sock has gone missing. And everyone knows washing machines like to eat socks.
(The cvisah also deserve a special mention for washing my post-vegetable garden, grubby Converse Allstars… and getting them to look good as new! Well, almost… they’re actually at that perfect, slightly beaten up stage.)

Kishorit also organises daily social activities that allow the chaverim to try out new things and make friends with others with similar interests. Everything from sessions at the (brand new) gym and swimming pool, through to music and theatre activities, and monthly Shabbat events organised by the group of young “Shinshinim” (the affectionate name for the volunteers here - more on THEM at a later date…). There are also external trips and activities, for example: on Saturday, we took part in a fun run in aid of a Cancer charity. All of these – and more – enrich the lives of the chaverim and give them the opportunity to independently schedule their own free time. 

So, what to call a community that offers its members core support with day-to-day life, but yet allows them the freedom to make individual key decisions regarding work and social life?

A bit more internet research (this time Wikipedia) brings up an idea (I say “idea” because I can’t really trust Wikipedia as fact) that Kishorit’s name was originally taken from Proverbs 31:19; “In her hand she… grasps the spindle with her fingers.” Well, whether or not there’s truth in that, it’s a lovely image – and one that complements the earlier definition of the “spindle” perfectly.

The famous Shakespeare quote “a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet” is bang on; the concepts at the root of Kishorit’s philosophy, and their implementation, would not be less effective if this place was called something inconsequential…

But I can’t help feeling just the tiniest bit smug that all my Googling (let’s face it… nobody uses any other search engine) has paid off. And that Kishorit, the Spindle, is meaningful both by name and by nature; providing tangible and robust support for the chaverim to “grasp” onto when they need it but, most importantly and uniquely, the liberty to “revolve around” it as they choose

JOHANNAH’S KISHORIT BLOG #3 (9/11/2013): “I’ve decided I want to watch this tree grow here in Israel.” (President Barak Obama)

“Alarm goes off at 7!” (quick nod to my roots for any Musical Theatre fans out there), and I diligently - and successfully - ignore it for up to 50 minutes, before finally managing to drag myself out of bed to throw some work clothes on in time for the last remains of breakfast at the “cheder ochel” (dining room).  It’s not that I don’t want to get up; I love my work and the people here.  Let’s just say I’m more of an “evening person”.  Or afternoon.  Or anytime other than morning, for that matter.
Still, nothing that a caffeine injection can’t fix, and after filling up on the organic fruit and dairy produce (mainly from Kishorit itself), I’m on my way to the organic “gan yarak” (vegetable garden).
Jobs include digging and preparing the soil, working in the greenhouses, collecting eggs from the free-range chickens, planting seeds and more mature plants, weeding, and the very onerous but necessary task of “testing” the strawberries, straight from the ground, along the way.  In traditional kibbutz style, we keep what we need of what we grow/the chickens lay for the dining hall, and sell the rest externally to generate income for Kishorit.  Everything is organic and no large, scary machinery is used; just good-old-fashioned elbow grease.
The “chaverim” (members of Kishorit with special needs) work alongside myself, other volunteers (there is a big group of “Shinshinim” at Kishorit; Israeli teenagers who have been selected to live/volunteer here for a year before they head off to their army service), and the managers of the gan yarak.  As I get to know each individual “chaver”, I see more and more of their unique qualities.  Each member of the team has something to bring, from Yuval’s gentle but methodic weeding technique to Liran’s motivational catchphrase “Y’alla l’avoda!” (Let’s go to work!) which he frequently exclaims, at the top of his voice, to anyone who will listen.
There are many industries at Kishorit (Pastel Toys’ factory, Kishor winery and the “cvisah” laundry to name a few) and the chaverim are employed in as many places as possible.  At lunchtime, people from all corners of the kibbutz down tools (real or metaphorical) and chaverim, volunteers and staff all come and eat “b’echad” (together).  Kosher is kept in the cheder ochel, and lunchtime is meat-time.  Cue: food coma for Johannah and subsequent second bestirring of myself to return to the fields for the afternoon.
At the end of the day’s work, there are a number of social activities to get involved in – from sports to music, movies to baking.  Most days I go and do my best impression of working out at the (brand new) gym (wow, I hate running), or if my vanity allows it and I haven’t just straightened my (naturally very curly) hair I will go and do a few laps in the (also brand new) swimming pool.  Except Sunday evenings, when I take part in the Yoga class.  Much more my style.  But yesterday, with the encouragement of my neighbour Mark, I have made the decision to put my competitive streak to good use and join the chaverim football team in their weekly Chaverim vs Shinshinim match.  This is a big step for me; it means facing my lifelong fear of the ball hitting my head, developed from many years’ experience on the playground.  There’s always one girl, isn’t there, that seems to have an inbuilt homing device?  Well, that girl was me.  However, growing up with three brothers and no sisterly back-up will, I’m sure, stand me in good stead to take the rough with the smooth when I debut with them next week.  And if all else fails, I can always fall back on my alternative primary school passtime of choreographing Spice Girls routines whilst the boys fight over where the goalposts should be.
By bedtime, I’m exhausted (must be all that “exercise”).  If I can muster the energy, I will Skype my family and friends back in Blighty with all my updates but sometimes “en li koach” (a fave Hebrew phrase of mine; literally: “I don’t have the power”).
Volunteering at Kishorit is unquestionably the most interesting, meaningful and important experience I have had in my eight months in Israel so far, and probably my entire life – in terms of both personal development, and also in a broader sense of what I am able to give to Israel and the people that live here.  In actual fact, it is bigger than that.  It is life-changing.
I arrived in Israel unsure of how long I wanted to stay, but with a clear goal: get more in touch with my Jewish identity and explore as much of this amazing country as possible.
And at the end of last week, I received a pleasant surprise; I am thrilled to say that I have been offered a job here at Kishorit.  Having taken Shabbat to think it over and all the implications, this opportunity seems to have nudged me over the final hurdle to make the decision that perhaps everyone (except me!) already knew was inevitable…
Let’s just say it starts with an “A”, ends with a “yah” and has “li” in the middle.