Doing good versus learning good in Israel

Masa XXX story
Photo credit: Hannah Stonebraker.
A Yahel volunteer works in the Gedera community garden.

Thanks to my amazing parents, my various communities, and my privileged education, I've spent a fair amount of my life, and especially my last four years in college, learning how to "do good." 

But for the most part, it sadly feels sometimes like I spent very little time actually doing good. There are certainly projects and organizations of which I was a part that meant I got down and dirty in the trenches and did some really meaningful work. However, this was usually for short periods of time, little stints in which I immersed myself deeply in social action and development before going back to my "normal" intellectual life, safe in the ivory tower of my academic community. This is not to say that I do not firmly believe that I have (as everyone can) done some good in my life through small gestures enacted in my everyday community with my immediate friends and family. And this is not to say that academic work, study, and research do not do a great amount of good in our world. But it is to say that for the first time in my life, I am learning what it means to consciously try to do good, for others, in every single moment. 

Service learning is not new to me, and Masa Israel's Yahel Social Change Program certainly embodies it to the fullest, and to an extent that I have never before been able to epitomize in my daily life. At Yahel, I am a member of a 12-person cohort, who lives, works, and learns in a specific and targeted community. We live in Gedera, a small city in central Israel, where we work intensely in the sizable Ethiopian population. This is an amazing and beautiful community, rich in heritage and tradition, but one that has been sadly subjugated to crises of identity, economy, and society by its transport and transformation to Israel. 

Yahel works to rebuild this community from the inside, to empower current and future leaders towards their own goals. I wear many hats, working as an English teacher in the local secular high school, an English tutor for two professional women (a nurse and a lawyer), a tutor for two 16-year-old girls, and a photographer for local nonprofit partners. This means that everyday, I wake up, and my work is completely centered on the problems, issues, and beauties of this community and its individuals. My personal life, goals, and successes are utterly tied to my work in the community, and the possible positive influence I can exert. 

After three months, I cannot yet say that I am fully part of this community. But I can say that it is a part of me. I am deeply affected, connected, and committed to my friends, coworkers, and students here, and their successes have become my own. It would have been much easier to sit back in the United States and study this unique community from the comfort of my home culture, community, and country. But it would have been nearly, if not completely, impossible to have a daily positive impact, let alone learn daily and deeply from my encounters. It is only through fully committing my life at this moment in time, and for all my moments for the rest of this year, that I am able to have this type of impact-both personally and in the community-and truly learn about what Israel has to hold, and what I have to give. 

Hannah Stonebraker is a recent graduate of Middlebury College, and a current participant on Masa Israel's Yahel Social Change program. For more information on Yahel Israel Service Learning, please visit Visit to learn about additional opportunities to volunteer or intern in Israel.

Posted: 1/2/2014 2:54:57 PM
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