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TALMA: Documenting Connections, Strength and Hope

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This summer, 59 REALITY participants and Detroit Federation young adult members were invited to be part of the inaugural TALMA program. In partnership with Schusterman and the Steinhardt Foundation, Israel’s Ministry of Education started TALMA in order to offer students a rigorous and fun summer learning opportunity to improve their skills in English. The REALITY group joined forces with 55 Israeli educators to teach in 14 schools throughout Nazareth Illit and Migdal Ha’emek in northern Israel.

Robyn Fialkow is a 2013 REALITY Pro participant and currently works as a teacher in New York City. Her remarks given at the close of the TALMA program are presented here.

As many of you know, I have been journaling since the beginning of this trip, originally with the purpose of documenting "journey of self" in both the professional and personal context. I could not have anticipated that this journal would also act as a record of the current conflict from its start. On our first full night here on June 30, I wrote how as we finished lesson planning with our new co-teachers and schools, news broke that the three Israeli teenagers’ bodies had been found. In addition to expressing deep sadness, I also questioned what this would mean for the political climate in the region.

On July 8, I wrote of the hundreds of rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel – which was then still an unfamiliar occurrence to me – and also wrote about my mentor, Ron. How he was at breakfast at Nof Tavor that morning but gone by the afternoon when we returned from school. How Shuki was also called back later that evening without choice. Suddenly, the “conflict” felt close to home. It was no longer an abstract story on the news with faceless names. It was no longer a far-removed political situation in a land I have always loved. Now, it became intensely personal. I began to understand what it means to be Israel. On this night, I wrote:

You can feel the weight in the air. Thick with anxiety. Worry. Tension. Dread. Hope. It is not an individual burden to carry but a collective, national one. In this way, Israel and its people are united in an unparalleled sense.

I wrote that 15 days ago. I do not need to stand here to tell you how the situation has escalated since then. We all know. But I do feel that it’s important to recognize how this experience has affected us as a group, at least from my perspective. REALITY has always encouraged us to connect deeply with each other, with Israel and with ourselves. But being in Israel during this particular time has intensified the need for our shared support, interdependence and desire to live fully in an unpredictable world. Although we have been carrying a heavy stone in the pits of our stomachs each passing day, we have also felt the vibrating electricity of life in the air here, a buzzing energy not found elsewhere.

There is an urgency to live and enjoy and connect – with the people around us and the spaces we occupy – perhaps because of the swiftness with which life changes here. I leave Israel tonight, my heart intertwined more closely than ever with this country, its people and all of you. Words cannot adequately express my gratitude for each person in this room for allowing me to embrace my authentic self here and for allowing me to glimpse and appreciate your vulnerabilities, strengths and characters.

The bonds we have formed in Israel over the past three weeks are such that they cannot be replicated or possibly even understood by those who have not been a part of TALMA. Thank you for making my time in Israel a deeply profound experience, and for helping to create a home away from home.

For more on the TALMA experience, read Dan Adler's remarks here.

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.