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September 03, 1993 - Image 127

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-09-03

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Kibbutz From Harlem

Black and Latino students from New York
are getting a taste of communal life in Israel.


- A-


eople thought I was
crazy to go to the
Middle -East," says
Laila Bonner, 19.
"They said, 'You're gonna
get shot out there!' "
Laila and 13 other
African-American and
Hispanic students from
New York's West Side Alter-
native High School are in
Israel for 10 weeks on a pro-
gram run by TL Youth-
works, an independent edu-
cational foundation that has
been bringing "at risk" stu-
dents from New York's
inner city to kibbutzim
since 1989.
Staying at Kibbutz
Baram in Upper Galilee,
they work and study and
learn how to interact kib-
butz style. "I didn't realize it
would be so green," remarks
Cynthia Asjana, 20, origi-
nally from the Dominican
Republic. "I thought Israel
would be all desert with
huts in the sand."
Kibbutz Baram, founded
44 years ago, is set in lush
green countryside on
Israel's northern border.
Well established, with large
houses and luxuriant flower
beds, there are no shootouts
and no street fights. The
only guns belong to soldiers
who come home on the
How does it compare to
For Ricky Desjardins, a
17-year-old Latino, the con-
trast is enormous. "I came
on the trip because I was
really tired of the city. You
wake up and all you see is
drugs and violence all day.
I'm used to walking down
the street, looking behind
me every five seconds. But
here on the kibbutz I feel a
safety I have never felt
before. And in the city, you

A new kibbutz goes up in the Galilee.

never get an opportunity to
get to know other people:"
"The program has been
running for five years," says
Stewart Bialer, the pupils'
teacher and project director.
"After 28 years of teaching,
I came up with the idea of
bringing students out to
Israel who would then get
credited for the time spent
here. Our school is an 'alter-
native' one, which means
it's geared toward students
who don't fit in well with
the regular school system,
for whatever reason. Almost
all of them are from single-
parent, low- income fami-
Bialer founded the non-
profit TL Youthworks,
which sponsors the trip and
follow-up program back in
the U.S., "so the whole expe-
rience is not just forgotten
about." It is funded by cor-
porations, individuals and
the students' families.
But why kibbutz? Why
not any country with a
warm climate and pretty

"Kibbutz is perfect,"
Bialer says, "because the
kids see another way of life
— a society where conflict is
resolved through coopera-
tion and not through vio-
lence. I wanted the students
to be able to interact posi-
tively with each other, to
learn those cooperative liv-
ing skills. I think it also
gives them an insight into
different types of people,
breaking down their stereo-
Ricky says close contact
with Jewish people has com-
pletely changed his attitude.
"I used to think Jews were
cheap, and they all had big
noses — you know, you hear
all kinds of negative things.
But over here I see it all
differently because here I
am in the Jewish home-
Roy Smith, a black attor-
ney and freelance journalist
from New York who is
accompanying the group
and writing about it for the
black press back home, also
feels the program is the best

TV channel in English is
MTV out of Asia. It's a real
The students have a
group dynamics session
every afternoon with Bialer.
os They talk about their prob-
lems with one another as
well as of living thousands
of miles away from home in
a very different society.
Most of the students felt
coming to Israel was a dan-
gerous decision.
And, in fact, living on the
border has made them more
aware of the sensitivities of
the Arab-Israel conflict.
They have found the trips
around the country "educa-
tional," says Laila. "But it's
been really fun, too."
In the evenings there are
way to confront stereotypes.
movies, TV and a weekly
"I hope the trip will help
disco. "The music is terrible
resolve some of the tensions
— all old stuff from the
between New York's black
'70s," says Akila Brown, 18.
and Jewish communities,"
"They even play Grease, can
he says.
you believe it?" She shrieks
The students work like
with laughter. "At first, we
other members, getting up
didn't want to dance but
daily at 5 a.m. and packing
now we don't care, we dance
apples grown in the kibbutz
anyway, we aren't embar-
orchards. They eat a self-
rassed any more. We show
service breakfast at 7 a.m.
them how to dance!"
with the kibbutz members
Each student is given a
in the large communal din-
kibbutz family who eats
ing room. Opinions are
with them on Friday nights
mixed over the kibbutz food.
in the dining room. In the
"Salad, salad, salad," says
beginning, the students
Cynthia disgustedly. But
were too embarrassed to sit
Ricky likes it: "All the food
with their adopted families.
you want, it's great. I've
But now, says Akila, "I
given up eating meat out
think they would be kind of ,
upset if we didn't."
After breakfast, the group
But it's not all milk and
is back at work in the apple
honey. Robert sometimes
orchard. Several members
thinks the kibbutzniks CC
of the group express the
"don't really trust us. They LU
desire never to see an apple
act all timid like they expect 2
again. Then it's lunch and
us to be druggies and crimi-
the workday's over. This is
nals, and we are not. But 0
when the boredom sets in.
hey, it's good to get away
"I kind of miss the
from New York. I mean
action," says Robert
there are no shootouts out 1
Mantilla, 18, "and the only
here." ❑





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