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.