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Finding Depth, Meaning and Joy in 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.

Ofek Ravid is an Israeli musician, informal educator and social activist. Lately you can find him presenting to kids across the country about the importance of buying Israeli goods and supporting the local economy.

I found myself several weeks before the Start South journey, contemplating whether to sign up. I don't recall exactly how I heard about the program, but I was wondering how I should celebrate the week after Chanukah.

As a soldier I had spent a bit of time in the area around Gaza. I was stationed there in 2012 for about 6 months as part of my service. I used to always see the views and stop at the bus stops, but rarely did I ever get to meet people, talk to them.

I remember I was stationed in Kissufim and enjoyed doing my exercise around the kibbutz, watching the flowers bloom, quite unaware of what was going on in with the people in the area, quite set on focusing on my own little mission in life at the time.

So I decided I would give Start South a shot, and boy am I glad I did!

When you go and meet the people and experience a situation firsthand, it is really something else. Start South gave me that opportunity. I must admit that at first I was hesitant to join the program, given some of the stigmas we sometimes have about foreign programs in Israel. Once it was underway, however, I was surprised by the depth of the program, by how unique the speakers were and by the people we conversed with and the places we saw.

In my rhythm therapy workshop group, for instance, we offered people in the Sderot community the opportunity to learn to play drums using recycled materials. People from all walks of life including those with musical experience and those without had the opportunity to join together in happiness and joy, for several hours at a time. It was incredible to see the smiles on the faces of people who had at first seemed tired and then to see sparks in their eyes.

On one of the last days of the program, we worked in a community garden. It was impressive to me how impactful we could be together, how happy the local population was at our joining forces. It is pretty extraordinary that a group of visitors can leave such a positive impact.

On a personal note, as an Israeli, meeting Jews from places I didn't know had Jewish communities (especially places in eastern Europe) and getting to live with them and share stories and meals, had a profound impact on me.

I was surprised to see how much diversity and heritage we have as a people. Meeting Jews from so many different realities, seeing that they love our country so much and that they are using their hands to build it together with me, was an uplifting experience. I can certainly say that it expanded my Jewish horizons and allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of our people.

I want to thank Start South for helping me get to know my own country from a new perspective and to create and build a bond with people living in another part of the country, specifically the one we don't always get to see for ourselves. Sderot is a town we Israelis mostly hear about through the media or just pass by.

The place was so different than the image I had. There were children laughing, people drinking coffee, a good falafel stand, schools and playgrounds. I got to put human faces to what I usually watch on a screen, to meet some musicians I really liked but did not even know existed, like Haim Uliel. After the week was over, I had a newfound appreciation and connection to Israel’s south. 

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.