Beit Ruth Summer Fellow Shares Her Experience

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August 2019 • by Aviva Michaeli, Beit Ruth Summer Fellow

Working at Beit Ruth has truly been a one-of-a-kind experience. I learned so much about the Village and the therapeutic and educational services and programs that it provides for at-risk and vulnerable teenage girls in Israel.

While I had spent the past three summers working at different camps, the campers were from relatively privileged homes. Prior to arriving in Israel for my Summer Fellowship, the Beit Ruth staff briefed me about the girls’ backgrounds of domestic, sexual or emotional abuse. Based on what I heard, I expected that the girls would be isolated, withdrawn, and quiet. This turned out to be the wrong assumption. Just like the essence of a “sabra” (cactus pear/native Israeli), the girls had tough and defensive outsides with sweet and wonderful insides that revealed themselves as soon as you got to know them.

While it’s true that some girls were initially resistant to warm up, it didn’t take long for me to discover how fun and energetic they were and how they didn’t hesitate to advocate for themselves and challenge me in our daily conversations. Their kindness was revealed through their many acts of consideration for each other and strong bonds of friendship. The girls even checked in on how I was doing, which was very touching.

I have taken many important lessons with me from my time at Beit Ruth. Beyond the initial challenge of teaching English as an additional language for the first time – many of the girls that I taught were not used to traditional classroom settings – I soon learned to adapt my lessons to suit the girls’ unique learning needs.

The novelty of visual presentations, printed worksheets, homemade memory card games, color-by-number sheets, and treasure hunts were effective in engaging my students. My favorite activity during our summer school programming was teaching the girls clothing words during the first week and watching them use that knowledge to “purchase” clothing from a “clothing store” arranged by our hardworking shinshinyot (Israeli National Service volunteers).

As the summer school session progressed, I saw girls overcome their insecurity of speaking in a new language with inevitable mistakes – a step that allowed them to vastly improve the flow and content of their speech. During my last week, one girl who hadn’t spoken any English with me the entire summer asked me in English if I could pass her a Bamba snack! This simple question was a crowning achievement of the summer school program.

I am beyond proud of all that the girls were able to accomplish this summer, none of which would have been possible without the incredible teamwork that exists at Beit Ruth. I am extremely grateful for Beit Ruth’s school and administrative staff’s enthusiastic support and help creating effective lessons for the students. I am also indebted to the counselors and home staff who taught me by example that when you encounter students in a heated argument, the first priority is to de-escalate the conflict before tackling the specific issue at hand, emphasizing the importance of modeling emotional regulation over resolving the dispute right away.

I would be remiss if I did not express my gratitude to my fellow Summer Fellow, Elena, who was always there to provide me with a new perspective, not only about how to prepare lessons and engage with the girls, but also about the country of Israel itself, since it was her first visit.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have been part of Tufts University's Tisch Summer Fellows Program through the Tisch College of Civic Life. I am excited to return to Tufts with this new and memorable experience close at hand. I hope that I was able to spark change in the girls’ lives by adding another distinct voice of encouragement as they move forward in their lives. I know, for sure, that they sparked something in me.