Hi! I am currently studying at Midreshet Harova for the year, which is located in the heart of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. Living IN the historical and religious hub of the world, I have easy access to meeting people of various religions, ages and hearing languages from across the globe.
Every Tuesday, three girls from my school and I volunteer at Hadassah Har Tzofim, a hospital located on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem. Together, we visit women who have just given birth and women who are on bedrest. We have about an hour and a half to visit, do activities, and help these women in any way we can.
Although I have been learning Hebrew since I was in 1st grade, sadly, my Hebrew is not up to par. Hence, I was a bit nervous in the beginning of this project because I knew the language barrier would be a challenge. However, I quickly learned that you do not need many words in order to generate a connection with someone. We wanted to do activities with these women that would be fun, engaging and would help put a smile on their faces through this stressful and overwhelming time. Finally, we had the idea of giving them manicures!
Running to get a manicure is the last thing on these women's "to-do lists". In my opinion, having a bright color on your nails just makes you feel more put together and fierce (which these women 100% are). So, I brought in my handy dandy bag of nail polish, cotton balls and nail polish remover and began to work!
One of the other girls from Harova and I went from room to room with the same intro line "Shalom! Anachnu hitnatvut po, at rotza lak tzipornaim?", Translation: "Hi! We are volunteers here, would you like some nail polish?". At this point, we will either get a response of "No thank you", "Yes!! WOW! This is the best" or even "I'm sorry I'm going into the delivery room in 20 minutes so I can't...but thank you anyway". This conversational Hebrew was always understandable and it was easy to make quick conversations with people.
However, I soon learned that when you have a COMPLETE language barrier with someone, you don't need any words to make a simple bond. You learn to use different gestures to communicate. Such as facial movements like smiling, making eye contact or lifting your eyebrows to emphasize something. Even using the "Tarzan" technique of pointing to myself and saying "Talia" and then pointing to them, has allowed me to learn their names as well. I think this is an exceptional experience that is unique to Israel due to its diversity from literally all over the world. Even the nurses hail from countries like Sweden, France and Russia, and they have all united in Israel.
I would be lying if I said that Israel has no issues with its residents, but people somehow still live their regular day to day lives. They go to work, bring their children to school, go to restaurants, and even go to hospitals to have babies. So, just keep in mind that what you hear on the news, what is being posted on Facebook or said at your Shabbat table, may not be the whole story.
The simplest things can unite people and sometimes all it takes is a smile and some bright red nail polish.
Hadassah Staff at work