The summer of 2021 brought a welcome surprise to the school children of Lod, Israel. From June 27 to July 26, eighteen undergraduates from Yeshiva University, all counselors in the Counterpoint Israel program, taught English and mentored more than 400 elementary and high school students in the mixed Arab-Israeli city. For many of the YU student counselors, the four-week learning initiative offered a opportunity to befriend a community which they might otherwise never have known and put their values and idealism into action.
In its 15-year history, Counterpoint Israel has typically brought its service-learning initiative to day camps in underserved southern Israeli cities. But this summer was different. Partnering with the World Zionist Organization (WZO), Stephanie Strauss, executive director of Yeshiva University in Israel, took the program to a new level and a new location. The goal: to bring a message of positivity to the city of Lod, which just months earlier experienced its share of trauma and intercommunal violence.
“As Jewish people we have an obligation to put aside our differences and help others. And the 2021 Counterpoint Israel program did just that,” said Strauss. “It instilled a sense of civic responsibility and values-based leadership in our students and made an enduring impact on the hundreds of children with whom we engaged.”
Working closely with Counterpoint staff, Mayor Yair Revivo’s office identified which schools could most benefit from the educational programming. “Thanks to the city’s hands-on involvement, we knew our counselors’ efforts and energy were being put in the right place,” remarked Strauss. “They greeted us warmly, thankful for the opportunity to partner with college students that love Israel.”
And so nearly every day for four weeks, 18 student counselors boarded buses from YU’s Jerusalem campus and headed to Lod to work side-by-side with teachers at the Zvulun Hammer and Ganei Aviv elementary schools and at Darka high school. From morning to late afternoon, they paired immersive English-language instruction with a range of recreational activities, from playing board games to soccer. Student counselor Noa Atar ’22 S of Newton, Massachusetts was fascinated to see how much she could “connect to the children and really get to know them simply by helping them academically.” And despite the fact that he thought he had little in common with the Lod students, David Cohen ’23 SB, a native of Panama, forged unexpected connections. “Considering everything they went through, I was amazed by their spirit.”
Like her fellow counselors, Meira Prager ’22 S of Teaneck, New Jersey, was impressed by the school children’s resilience and positivity. “The kids in Lod really appreciated our presence. They came to school every day eager to interact and learn. And for someone like me who is studying to be an educator that experience was inspiring and humbling.”
“For many of our YU students, the Counterpoint program imparted critical life and leadership lessons,” said Strauss, “ They came to an unfamiliar place that faced many challenges this past year, from COVID to riots, and rolled up their sleeves to contribute to Israeli society. In the process, they’ve deepened their understanding of Jewish values and developed relationships that will last a lifetime.” Yaakov Hagoel, chair of the WZO, underscored that impact by noting that “the connection between the children of the city of Lod and the Jews of the world is a significant one. I am thankful to the students who came here to contribute and empower our children.”