Galilean gathering

Jews and Bedouins do TIKKUN with Project Ten.

Project TEN volunteers working at Kibbutz Harduf. (photo credit: DROR SITHAKOL​)
Project TEN volunteers working at Kibbutz Harduf.
(photo credit: DROR SITHAKOL​)
‘Become a Jewish global activist!” proclaims the advertisement for Project TEN, the Jewish Agency’s innovative service-based program for young Jewish adults that operates volunteer centers in Ghana, Mexico, Puerto Rico, South Africa, and Uganda. Dubbed the “Jewish Peace Corps,” TEN stands for Tikkun Empowerment Network, referring to the Jewish concept of tikkun olam – repairing the world. It also denotes the Hebrew word ten, which means “give.” While Project TEN is best known for its far-flung global network, of equal importance is a unique, local version of Project TEN in the Galilee that emphasizes the values of coexistence between the local Jewish and Bedouin Arab populations. Situated at Kibbutz Harduf in the lush Jezreel Valley region of the Lower Galilee, Project TEN has hosted hundreds of volunteers since 2014, in a self-sustainable community located in the Harduf Forest dedicated to conservation and ecology. Kibbutz Harduf is near the Arab villages of Sawaed and Ka’abiyye and enjoys excellent relations with its Arab neighbors. It is also the home of Sha’ar La’adam, the kibbutz’s international center for educational, ecological and faith-related activities, which grapples with the complex reality of coexistence between Jewish and Arab communities in the Galilee via the creation of a common Jewish-Arab culture. Project TEN volunteers at Harduf come from the United States, Canada, Israel, Germany and other countries. Approximately 15 volunteers arrive for each five-month period. Three days each week they tutor students ages eight through 12 in English at the local Bedouin schools near Harduf. Walaa Eyadat, senior English teacher at the 540-pupil Ka’abiyye School, explains that the learning experience benefits both the volunteers and the students. “I can see that the volunteers are giving so much for the school. It is a cultural exchange. They are experiencing the Bedouin community which is part of Israel, and they are experiencing the generosity and the values that we have.” Eyadat is impressed by the spirit of volunteerism, and says, “I read about tikkun olam and I understand that the volunteers don’t get paid, and they come to the school despite the difficulties. The program is not only about teaching English. It also gives hope to bring peace to the world and to achieve peace between Arabs and Jews.” Faiz Swaed, the co-director of Project TEN at Kibbutz Harduf, says the impact of Project TEN at Kibbutz Harduf must be measured in small steps. “At Sha’ar La’adam,” he says, “we are not trying to change the world. But in the small activities – in the way that the participants volunteer in the school – it can change them and their students, the teachers and the families. It can create more open understanding without prejudice.” Swaed points out that volunteers work both in the Bedouin schools as well as at the kibbutz itself, which allows them to experience both sides of Israeli society. Once a week, the students volunteer at Beit Elisha, a group home at Kibbutz Harduf that houses adults with a variety of special needs, disabilities, and behavioral and social difficulties. In addition, they work at Sha’ar La’adam, building roads, painting and repairing buildings, farming, and practicing biodynamic agriculture, a form of alternative agriculture. The rest of the day is filled with lessons in Hebrew and Arabic, touring, and study. Naama Zur, who serves as co-director of Project TEN at Kibbutz Harduf along with Faiz Swaed, explains that for many participants, the program enables them to gain a better understanding of themselves. “THE PROGRAM is self-explorative for the participants,” she says. “Some come from broken families or have emotional issues. Most of them are not on the highway of high school, university, jobs, and they are looking for something.” Mindy Smith, 21, a Chicago native, participated in the program at Kibbutz Harduf in 2017 for two five-month sessions. She explains that one of the attractive features of the program is biography, in which participants share the story of their lives with fellow volunteers and try to gain a deeper understanding of themselves. “Being away from home for five months and reviewing your life at the same time makes you look at your life – what you were, what you are, and what you want to be. I really grew in the program,” she says. Naama Zur comments, “For many of them, it is the first time they are living independently without their parents and are responsible for themselves. They have to solve community problems and social problems. They have to cook and clean for themselves and be responsible for their own schedule.” Smith relates that an important component of the program was the sense of community and connection that was engendered between the participants. She has made lasting friendships with participants from previous years as well as with the contemporaries in her cohort. The best part of the program, she says, were her experiences with the Bedouin community. “The kids were super-interested, and the teachers were so hospitable,” she relates. “It was a great environment to be in, and it was my favorite part of the program. Sometimes, after school, the teacher would invite us for dinner and we would eat with their family. You are helping them learn and you become enveloped in the community.” Smith, who recently made aliyah and lives in Kiryat Tivon, says that her 10-month stay with Project TEN was a decisive factor in her decision to move to Israel. “I had never considered moving here before and it showed me a more truthful side of the story,” she says. Walaa Eyadat, who has been working with Project TEN volunteers since the program was introduced in Kibbutz Harduf, relates that over the years, she has become very close to all of the volunteers that have worked in her school. They pick up elements of Bedouin Arab slang and, she says, “They know it so quickly and absorb it so quickly. When they speak Bedouin Arabic, I feel that they are so close to me as a Bedouin teacher.” She remains in touch with many of the volunteers – both those who have returned to their homes as well as those who have remained in Israel – and they visit frequently. This February, the Jewish Agency is planning to add an additional Project TEN center in Israel, in the Negev town of Mitzpe Ramon. Like the current program at Kibbutz Harduf, volunteers will divide their time between working in the town and helping Bedouin Arabs in the neighboring communities. Project TEN, with its combination of volunteer work and Jewish activism, lives up to its name of repairing the world through giving and volunteerism. But even on a smaller scale, in tiny Kibbutz Harduf and the surrounding Arab villages, it has made an impact. And as Mindy Smith says, “It repaired my world. Being there gave me the chance to recollect myself and see where I want to be and where I want to go.” This article was written in cooperation with The Jewish Agency for Israel.