By Brittany Walters, a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Petach Tikvah
Noam made an impression on us from the first day, when he curiously inquired as to the delineation of power between the British monarch and the Prime Minister. You can imagine our shock in finding that he was not a native speaker but instead, an incredibly bright 6th grader with an open mind and heart far beyond his years.
It isn’t his brilliance that is so striking but rather, his unrelenting investment in good. He is kind to his peers when the other 11-year old boys tend to assert bravado; he is humble in the face of other students learning English at a slower pace, acting as a translator in a way so subtle that it was just brought to our attention. Though smaller than many of his classmates, he openly stands up against bullying (so openly, in fact, he addressed the issue on the internet forum we created for them with an American school) and helps resolve issues around him, often suggesting that artistic expression is the most effective means of doing so.
The most impressive thing of all is his tangible sense of self. Can you imagine an 11-year old comfortably standing in front of 40 Americans welcoming them to Israel in his second language, accompanied by a Powerpoint he made on his own accord? Can you imagine a young boy comfortably identifying as an artist and not pretending to enjoy sports for the sake of masculinity? He is fully himself and it is tremendously profound in someone so young.
It was an invitation to his home that really solidified our understanding of the depth of his humility and the strength of his character. His family created a space of warmth, understanding and love for all of us as guests but more notably, for their sons. We were welcomed into their traditions without any pretense, without any suggestion of the night or the experience being “put on” or heightened. It was a privilege to experience a family in such an honest, genuine way.
This privilege transcends to so many moments of my daily life in Israel: it is wonderful to experience people in such an unadulterated way. Israel is without pretenses, the people that compose it are unapologetically their own. Though abrasive in some opinions (and I’ve stood in enough supermarket lines to understand where it can go very wrong), it is a practice in being both honest in intention and action. People say what they mean and do what they feel. Noam is just a small glimpse into the character of a people: actualized and as such, building a life around passion and interest.
Brittany Walters of Pembroke Pines, Florida, is a graduate of the University of Florida. She is currently spending ten months teaching in an underserved school in Petach Tikvah, Israel.