Interview with A Volunteer

@The Source Israel interviewed Aaron Finbloom,
a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, about his summer in Israel.

Q: What made you
decide to spend your summer in Israel?

Aaron: The main reason I decided to spend a summer in Israel was to spend
time with my girlfriend who is currently in the Israeli army. I met my girlfriend
while I was spending the second half of my senior year of high school in
Israel with most of my high school class.

Q: Where did you
work, and how did you find the position?

Aaron: I worked at a place called “Intel’s Computer Clubhouse” in Neve
Ya’akov (a neighborhood in the far north part of Jerusalem). I didn’t get
paid. However, I did get a stipend of about $70 a month and the housing was
really cheap – about $30 a month. I found the position through a volunteer
program called Stagerim that provides lists of internship/volunteer

Q: Was it difficult
to make the arrangements?

Aaron: Stagerim set up the entire internship for me. Applying for
Stagerim was pretty easy as well. I sent in a registration form to the office
in New York and in Chicago and then someone came and interviewed me. I told
them I was interested in Education and I started to get different internship/volunteer
options less than two weeks after the interview.

Q: Did you look at other options before selecting
this particular place to work?

Aaron: For a while I was thinking about finding a job in Israel, but then
I realized that my Hebrew was probably not good enough, and that I had to
go through this big process of getting a work visa. And also for a while
I was thinking about volunteering at MADA ( Magen David Adom) however, I
realized that this education based internship at Intel’s Clubhouse would
be more interesting for me and be more helpful for my career which will probably
be in education.

Q: What exactly is
Intel and why do you like it?

Aaron: Intel’s Clubhouses are established all over the world (and started
in US). They are established in poorer and troubled neighborhoods with the
attempt to get kids off the street and to give kids hope and self esteem.
One way of doing this is merely by interacting with the kids, playing computer
games with them, etc. Another way of doing this is to help create projects
with the kids by using the plethora of software that the clubhouse owns.

I really enjoyed this work because I was both interacting
with kids and using computers. Also, because I was encouraged to do whatever
I pleased. If I wanted to teach the kids about the piano I could … or if
I wanted to try to teach them how to read English … I also could.

The children were all from Neve Yaakov, which most Israelis
say is a pretty tough neighborhood. Most of them seemed to be secular Israelis
and there were also a lot of Russians and a lot of Ethiopians. The kids ranged
in age from 10-18 (the average age was around 14). Most of them came from
pretty bad backgrounds, some worse than others. Sometimes the kids came in
with big scratches or bruises on their faces or arms. Also, they yelled a
lot and used bad language most of the time, and were violent some of the

Q: What was a typical
day like?

Aaron: On a typical day I arrived at the clubhouse and I was greeted by
yelling kids, loud computer games, and blaring music. I usually rotated between
various activities. The most rewarding situations were when I would teach
the kids something. I would help them take pictures with a digital camera,
edit the picture in Photoshop (adding cool colors and effects), and then
print it out for them to take home. I would teach the kids Flash — this
was the most fun — because I could watch their eyes light up as they made
their own interactive movies with animations and graphics. There was an electric
keyboard at the clubhouse and sometimes I tried to teach some of the kids
real basic piano. One time I helped a kid make a movie using a computer program.
Also, we were encouraged to play games with the kids that improved logic
and creativity.

Q: Where did you

Aaron: My living situation wasn’t so good. I lived at an absorption center
together with most of the people on my internship program. The place is very
spacious, but it’s kind of dirty and old.

Q: Besides the kids, who did you meet?

Aaron: I made friends with two other college students who worked at the
Clubhouse – one from London and one from Syracuse. Some of the other people
on my internship program who are working in Jerusalem are either in college
or just out of college. Some of them are thinking of making Aliyah and a
few of them already decided to. Also, since I lived in an absorption center
I interacted with all sorts of people who have already made Aliyah (mainly
from Ethiopia and Russia). There were also a lot of Israeli volunteers who
came in about once a week.

Q: How has this experience
changed or confirmed your thoughts and feelings about Israel?

Aaron: I am not exactly sure what my thoughts or feelings were/are about
Israel so it’s kind of hard to say how they have changed. For one thing
this experience has really opened up my eyes to the differences and similarities
between the youth in Israel and America. For instance, in the summer in America
the youth go to camps, get jobs, volunteer, etc. In Israel the youth don’t
really do much and don’t have much motivation at all to get a job. I suppose
my feelings and thoughts changed according to the security situation in Israel.
Before I came here I thought I would feel terrified to go out on the street,
ride a bus, eat dinner, etc. But after a week or so I really got used to
it. It’s really a shame that in America all you hear about is politics and
explosions here and people dead there. In Israel you feel that in the midst
of all these other aspects of life. You realize that you still have to get
to this appointment you have later in the day … you realize that you’re
pretty hungry and you got to eat somewhere. There are still people out on
the streets, maybe not that many tourists, but still a lot of people (even
when there were increased security risks). Sometimes I felt a little uncomfortable
when I was in a very crowded bus or restaurant, however that feeling is really
just one part of life here.

Q. What did you do
with your time off?

Aaron: In my time off I saw my girlfriend. She just made Aliyah about two
years ago (she’s originally from France) and she is in the army in a program
called Sarel (or Volunteers for Israel). She is a Madricha for volunteers
that come from all over the world (mostly America and France) and she manages
their activities, places them in volunteer positions, and deals with real
foul tempered Israelis. A lot of the time we spent with her family in Jerusalem,
Netanya and Chadera. Mostly I saw her on weekends and we rested, watched
movies and ate dinner.

Q: What is your most significant contribution?

Aaron: I think my biggest contribution is to these kids and their lives.
For one thing I feel like without me and without the Clubhouse, they would
be on the street with no hope and nothing to do. As I made friends with the
kids, I gave them more hope and fun so that when they went home at night
they could really look forward to waking up the next day and going to the
clubhouse. Also, the software that I taught the kids could help them get a
job and have a better future.

Q: In what ways has
the experience changed you?

Aaron: Perhaps I’ve changed by being a little more patient with the kids.
If anything I certainly know that it takes a lot more than I thought originally
to teach kids something. I understand more what people mean when they say
they put so much into someone. Teaching these kids something really takes
a lot of care and nurturing and patience. I suppose I also changed because
I am more knowledgeable about a lot of things including where to get good

Q: What is your absolute
most favorite thing about being in Israel?

Aaron: My favorite thing, without a doubt, is my girlfriend.

Interview by D. Rosenbloom


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