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Yahel - Israel Service Learning

About

Yahel was founded in 2009 as an educational nonprofit organization that offers high quality immersive service learning programs in Israel that are community based and unique in their depth and sustainability. The organization was founded by Dana Talmi, who returned to Israel after several years of working with American Jewish World Service. Her work with AJWS exposed her to the methodology of service learning and Yahel was created out of a recognition that similar in depth, community based and high quality service programs should exist in Israel as well.

Reviews

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Sydney
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Not a Single Regret

Yahel is a 9 month social change service learning fellowship based in three cities in Israel: Rishon LeZion, Lod, and Haifa. I am currently a fellow volunteering in Rishon LeZion, in a low income neighborhood called Ramat Eliyahu where I work most closely with the Ethiopian immigrant population. I absolutely love living and working in this beautifully diverse city alongside smart, capable, humble, critical thinkers.

As a Jew from the diaspora, I’ve always felt like my education surrounding Israel was very one-sided, it only told a story from the Jewish perspective, which makes sense. One thing Yahel is really good at doing, is challenging people to understand the importance of nuanced perspectives on the world.

Having the intention to understand the concept of "multiple truths" is really important as members of this fellowship. Those who don’t have the inclination to learn new things that challenge their biases will struggle on a program like this. If you are willing to listen to people's subjective experiences with an open mind and heart, you will thrive here. My messaging here may sound pointed, and that's because I truly believe that people with the purpose to grow and learn as an individual and as a community will really gain so much from this opportunity, just as I have.

The space I have been given to hear personal experiences from speakers from every walk of life, to volunteer in organizations that are built by and for the community, to travel and see parts of the country that no other program or service can offer, to debrief and learn from our peers, to have emotionally charged and thought-provoking conversations and personal breakthroughs, to squeeze every bit of knowledge and wisdom out of the incredible staff; all makes this program special.

If what you, the reader, wants from a program is an opportunity to learn, teach, explore, challenge yourself, gain clarity on who you are and your role in the world of community service, then this is the program for you.

I have no regrets in joining this fellowship, and neither do the ~20 peers I have had the privilege to be on this journey with. I am humbled and excited for the last 2 months of this program. I know I will miss Yahel so much when I am gone, but I will take the lessons learned, relationships formed, and life experiences with me forever.

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Jack
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing Program, People, and Opportunity

I am a current fellow with the Yahel Social Change organization. My program began in September of 2021 and is scheduled to end in June of 2022.

I have had an incredible experience during my time with Yahel and would like to offer a counter perspective - and thus some balance - to the recent reviews below.

I think it’s important for anyone who is currently on this site reading about exciting overseas adventures to take a moment to ask yourself what you’re looking for. Long-term travel abroad can be an exciting, enriching experience, but like most things in life - you’re going to get out of it only what you’re willing to put into it.

It’s often not people or organizations themselves that lead to disappointment or frustration, but our own poor expectation setting. If I enter into a situation and I’m mistakenly expecting X, then you bet I’ll be bummed when I really get Y.

This is, of course, a generalization - and one that’s much easier said than done. But, I want to stress the importance of proper research and self-reflection before taking a leap into a volunteer position in a foreign country with wildly different politics and beliefs, culture, religion, and language than what you’re used to. On top of that, you’ll be doing some emotionally demanding (but rewarding!) volunteer work. Mix in a lot of exhaustive travel and I can understand how it might be difficult to properly set expectations for this journey.

I say all this to ensure that you, anonymous reader, go into this decision with as clear a head as possible. Ensure you’re coming for the right reasons (to broaden your perspectives, to help your community, to understand more about Israel, etc.) and you’ll have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Anything less, and you run the risk of disappointment - just like with anything in your life, and what you can see has happened to some of the previous fellows below.

For those fellows who had a bad time with Yahel - I’m truly sorry that they didn’t get to experience it the way I have. Their experiences are their own and I can’t help what little they’ve managed to get out of the program. However, I disagree wholeheartedly with some of their opinions, and so I’ll leave some of my own for you to be able to see another side to Yahel.

I am in the midst of one of the most fascinating and life-changing years of my life with Yahel. It is such a wildly amazing opportunity that it’s sometimes hard to really believe it’s real.

I have had the opportunity to travel to Israel, meet interesting people from around the world, work at fulfilling volunteer placements, travel the country, meet people from all walks of life, and make incredible friends. I get my rent paid for, I live in an awesome community, and I’ve had the chance to learn Hebrew, Arabic, and more about the Talmud than I thought I’d ever really care to know. Yahel plans multiple seminars in which they travel us around the country - introducing us to new people, places, and ways of thinking. We recently spent 4 days in the Negev meeting locals and enjoying nature.

What does Yahel ask in return? Show up with a participatory attitude. That’s it. No indoctrination, no forced perspective. Just show up with an open mind, be ready to agree or disagree with speakers, fellows, placements, etc. and learn how to navigate that. The world is filled with differing perspectives, and this fellowship - if you let it - allows you the hard opportunity to confront them and grow from them.

I’d also like to give a shoutout to the staff. The people who run this organization - and boy is it a lot of work done by a small group of talented folks - are awesome. They are a great group of empathetic and passionate women who are doing the best that they can to create good in this world. From Director Dana Talmi (who is not a conspiracy theorist) to the community-level coordinators, I’ve felt nothing but supported and heard when I’ve had issues or problems. I recently had an unforeseen tragedy occur in my life and I was comforted, supported, and lifted up by this program. These are good people.

If you’ve gotten this far, it’s clear that you’re at least somewhat invested in looking into Yahel - and I suggest you do it. I just suggest you do it in earnest. Do your research, both internally (why do you want to go?) and externally (what does going look like?), and find out if it’s for you.

Yahel has the opportunity to be a life-changing part of your life - just make sure you come for the right reasons.

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Lucia
1/10
No, I don't recommend this program

Unhealthy and falsely advertised

This program is run by toxic people who are often jumping on the side of gaslighting, victim blaming, lying, manipulating, and the list goes on. They are a bunch of annoying people who do not meet their promises even if that entails as urgent matters as medical care, comfort level in hostile environment, and even safety. The same people who tell some of us that we need to seek professional help at times of crises are the same people that:

* Don't care about our well-being
* lied about the medical insurance benefits, uses, and accessibility
* need to seek professional help themselves.

Regardless, that's not the way to go about dealing with vulnerable people during hard time; especially when they played a role in creating and leading to such toxic, hostile environments.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
The massive, incomparable difference between reality and the false advertisement portrayed on their website and social media platforms and info sessions/webinars prior to the start of the fellowship.
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Dennis
1/10
No, I don't recommend this program

Absolutely toxic environment

20% of the participants, including myself, all had left the program. This was due to many reasons. Staff and participants are toxic, there is absolutely no space for opinions that disagree with whatever is mainstream. If you dare have a different opinion be ready for the bullying that comes with this!

Besides that, the staff does not understand the antisemitism that diaspora Jews experience. They believe that Jews are oppressors and that hatred towards Jews/israel is “due to the conflict”. If you experience antisemitism in the diaspora this is not a place where you will feel safe or comfortable.

In one of my placements I worked with Arab children who on multiple occasions made their hatred towards Jews very clear to me. One of the children there grabbed my Star of David necklace and said “this is a dog” to me. He also had pro hamas and pro terrorism content on his TikTok account. I continued going to this placement until I just couldn’t handle it anymore.

The program staff expected me to keep going even though I made it clear that these experiences are traumatic for me and I felt that the environment was unsafe and that I didn’t belong there. The program staff gas lit me about this and argued with me about how I should continue going. Dana Talmi, the program founder, told another participant that my experience wasn’t antisemitic because it’s a “product of the conflict”. When this participant told her about the history of antisemitism, pogroms and expulsion in this land and about how Jews aren’t oppressors Dana had told her “that she didn’t agree with her interpretation of history”. So the founder is basically a conspiracy theorist who denies history and the oppression of Jews in their own homeland.

When I did stop going to this placement I was punished for my behavior. I was threatened with a contract breach and was told that any more problems could lead to my being kicked out of the program. Not to mention, if you do get kicked off the program you will lose your long term visa and will be “asked to leave” the country. AKA deportation.

We were treated as employees rather than people who came to Israel to volunteer out of the goodness of our heart.

This review hardly details the toxicity of this program. This program doesn’t do anything to better Israeli society or to critique it in a productive way. The blatant anti Zionism and anti israel rhetoric shared from staff, volunteer placements, and lecturers is not something that should be funded by Masa.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
After we went to see an unrecognized Bedouin village one of the girls on the program had come to the conclusion that she “wouldn’t be angry at the Bedouin’s if they had wanted to kill all of the Jews for the injustice that they were experiencing.” Another girl had agreed with her and this sort of genocidal view was not challenged.

Unfortunately this program does not look for rational solutions to the issues that exist. They validate violent responses. This program is definitely radicalizing people against Israel.
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Danielle
2/10
No, I don't recommend this program

Wouldn’t recommend

While I really loved my placements, the programme itself was an experience I wouldn’t want to repeat. Staff were unsupportive and created an environment of intolerance. 20% of the Yahel programme of 2021-2022 left early. Plenty of conversations were opened about what could improve the programme but they were not open to hearing this. More than half my city left early. They failed in their duty of care numerous times and I experienced prejudices and discrimination. Wouldn’t recommend. After countless attempts at trying to talk to them, I emailed Masa and was asked to leave the following day. I was the 4th person to leave that week.

What would you improve about this program?
Firstly, I would take into consideration accessibility issues and accommodations.
Secondly, I would introduce a zero-tolerance policy to discrimination from placements. People I lived with were exposed to Antisemitism, which caused them great distress multiple times, and the response was gaslighting. I would introduce a policy whereby programmes who do not take prejudice seriously would not benefit from fellows. I experienced discrimination based on my LGBT identity and disability and I believe these are protected characteristics.

Thirdly, I would invite speakers from multiple political positions and backgrounds. There was a real shortage of mizrachi and female speakers. Issues were also presented in a very biased way with the intent for fellows to absorb their coordinators politics; which I think is immoral.

Fourthly, I would locate options for fellows to access therapy. A lot of the placements are emotive and having one therapy sessions (where the contents of discussions are told to the programme) is insufficient.

Finally, I would make some serious changes to the health and safety on this trip.

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