The economic and social gaps extended by COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 continue to affect an already delicate society. Only a year later, the 2021 May violence rocked Israel, particularly in Israel’s diverse Arab-Jewish cities.
The violence only increased mental and physical barriers between Jewish and Arab youth, with few integrated public spaces to interact and form relationships over shared interests.
As social and economic gaps widen in the wake of COVID-19 and the May 2021 unrest, Israel’s younger generations will bear the burden of today’s polarizing society.
Disadvantaged populations, generally on the fringes of society, are further marginalized due to a lack of resources, state funding, or quality solutions to help empower, educate and employ fringe communities.
The existing hardships might worsen into dire situations, increasing the use of alcohol and drugs, increasing suicide attempts, depression and mental illness.
Is this a simple matter of fate, or can preventative measures be taken before the next economic and sociopolitical crisis? Can we as a society build mental resilience in advance, especially amongst youth, that will serve as a “preventative toolkit” for stressful situations and crises?
Recognizing the necessity to provide structure and stability for Israeli youth, the Israeli nonprofit HaGal Sheli (Catching the Wave of Life) ensures that Israel’s future generations will have a stable home away from home to seek guidance, empowerment, and mentoring to overcome any challenge life throws their way.
HaGal Sheli utilizes surfing as an educational tool
For over nine years, HaGal Sheli has mentored youth from across Israeli society utilizing surfing as an educational tool. Youth undergo an empowering journey, learning the tools to overcome challenges through perseverance, self-worth, teamwork and committing to goals.
Surfing is an empowering experience applicable to life itself, confronting waves and tides, coping with unpredictable weather conditions, falling off the surfboard, and getting back up – each element having a lasting impact on every participant.
Facing such uncertain sea conditions enables teens to develop the confidence and self-assuredness necessary to overcome life’s challenges. In weekly meetings, teenagers receive individualized support to increase personal development and a sense of empowerment.
Throughout COVID-19 and the period following the month-long civil unrest, many HaGal Sheli participants successfully managed negative emotions. This ability to cope directly results from teaching youth effective coping mechanisms before the pandemic and the May 2021 unrest.
Challenges teenagers encounter
Based on the challenges teenagers encounter during this challenging time, they appear better equipped to express themselves and their personal experiences in the first person when they learn about the realities of these difficulties.
When the next crisis occurs, they will be more prepared to speak, share and express themselves more effectively. An adolescent’s chance of finding a place within an environment is better when they can express emotions effectively.
On November 9th, HaGal Sheli marks a new chapter in its mission to serve as a beacon of stability for Israeli youth, regardless of background, socioeconomic status, race, religion, or political affiliation. Together with the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality and the Australian Jewish community, the newly established HaGal Sheli Australia-Tel Aviv Surf Education Center will serve as an epicenter of stability, support, empowerment and education.
Located on the border between predominantly Arab Jaffa and Jewish-Tel Aviv, the new center is a statement that looks an uncertain future directly in the eyes, refusing to let it determine the fate of Israeli youth.
Together with the Australian Jewish community, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, and HaGal Sheli’s longtime partners, we will continue to create lasting, positive cross-generational impact by transforming at-risk youth into tomorrow’s leaders.
The HaGal Sheli Australia-Tel Aviv Surf Education Center will develop teens’ instructional and leadership skills and teach and promote communication and teamwork while simultaneously reducing school dropout rates and opening avenues to higher education.
Program graduates transform into instructors, mentors and significant older role models for younger HaGal Sheli participants who represent the possibility of overcoming negative opinions of “the other” rooted in acceptance, tolerance and teamwork.
Regardless of future economic hardships or conflict, HaGal Sheli will continue to serve as a home and source of hope for youth who need it most.