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Creating, Exploring and Celebrating at Start South

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This past December, more than 120 young entrepreneurs and creative types from Israel and around the world traveled to southern Israel to participate in a 10-day program called Start South. The program was a partnership between nearly 20 local and global organizations. It was designed so that participants could learn about and experience life in southern Israel while joining with local residents to create a celebration of the people, communities and the local cultural landscape. The experience culminated in the Daroma Arts Festival in which Start South participants played a major role.

Natasha Danchenko is a dancer from Moscow, Russia who is an active member of her Hillel community. She often seeks out opportunities that expand her world and is eager to use her creative skills to inform her leadership.

When I applied for Start South I didn’t really know what to expect. To start, the program was being organized for the first time and I had nobody to ask about how it was in previous years.  According to the description, this volunteer trip was being organized in order to create an arts festival in collaboration with residents of southern Israel (mainly Sderot), who were affected by the conflict this summer.

I knew that there would be participants from all over the world and I was so excited to meet all of them! On our first day we were divided into different groups according to our interests, which would determine how we would contribute to the festival and workshops.

I was chosen for the Rhythm Therapy group, which had a lot of surprises in store for me! First, our madrich was absolutely awesome – Tomer Aloni from the very famous Israeli band “Mayumana”. It seemed to me (and I still think so) he could do everything: sing, dance, drum, play different instruments, do beatboxing and more! And his partner Moriya Roz was also so professional and full of knowledge that I watched them breathlessly. I found that when you have such inspiring leaders, it is easier to open up and start to show what you are capable of.

Second, I noticed so many talents in each of the participants in our group that I just wanted to know how it was possible to see so many amazing people in one room! One of the things I was really pleased with was that we started our trainings with some improvisation, which gave us an opportunity to create and explore what we could do as a group. I immediately felt comfortable working with my Rhythm Therapy group and the next two days of practicing were definitely an incredible experience.

Before the big festival, we also had the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat together in a variety of ways. I decided to opt for the Student Village experience because I felt it was important to get to know students whose houses are near the Gaza border, to have conversations with them and to feel what it’s like to live there.

After just a couple of hours of being there I realized how open, friendly and nice the students were and by the evening it felt like we had known each other for a long time. That Shabbat experience helped to deepen my understanding of issues that had long been on my mind. I am glad I chose the Shabbat option that was just right for me.

Then it was time to use our newfound inspiration to continue working on the festival program. We returned to our workshop groups and started actually running the workshops on Sunday.

Running our workshop was challenging at first. We were hosted by a kindergarten where children spoke only Hebrew but not everyone (including me) understood Hebrew; we needed to figure out how we were going to lead the open lesson. Fortunately we were able to quickly agree on who would translate the different languages throughout the workshop process, and then it all went well.

Over the course of Sunday and Monday we ran our workshop at the kindergarten, with other students groups and at a home for the elderly. After each session, we received the kind of feedback and thanks from the participants that made us want to give more and spend more time with these marvelous people!

Tuesday brought the peak of our program, the Daroma Festival, in which everyone could join. At the festival we sang, danced, played musical instruments and just entertained people! It was so nice to see how with every minute more and more people arrived; they called people to describe what was happening and invited all of their friends and relatives!

It was at that moment when I realized that what we had done wasn’t in vain. I am immensely grateful to the organizers of this trip because they not only provided us with an excellent program that gave us the opportunity to meet with people from different countries, but also made me feel part of something important and necessary. Thank you so much!

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.