Yahel Israel and Matnas Chicago Cultivate Women's Empowerment through Creative Writing
By Alexandra Menter
On January 11, 2017, Jillian Gogel, a participant on Yahel Israel’s 2016-2017 Social Change Program, led her first creative writing workshop with the Arab women’s group at Mosaic: Lod Multicultural Center. Jillian initiated the project as a part of her volunteer placement at the community center and to address the lack of English language ability in Ramat Eshkol.
Numerous Arab women from Ramat Eshkol and other neighborhoods in Lod attended the event. As each participant introduced themselves by name, age, and something about them that wasn’t immediately recognizable, laughter, jokes, and light heartedness filled the room. It was immediately clear that everyone in the room was not only excited to participate in the event, but to share with the other attendees in spite of language barriers.
Jillian instructed the Arabic and Hebrew speaking participants to write down three words they knew in English, and the English speakers to write down three words they knew in Hebrew. Due in part to the lack of tourism in Lod, fewer Arab and Jewish locals speak or understand English. Similarly, volunteers or expats from foreign countries have weaker Hebrew and Arabic. Thus, while Israel experiences high levels of tourism year round, peripheral cities like Lod are either ignored or remain undiscovered. In its own small way, Jillian’s workshop filled linguistic and cultural gaps by creating a space for people from multiple backgrounds to converge and practice a foreign language. Dooa Zabarqa, one of the Community Coordinators at the Lod: Mosaic Multicultural Community Center was very excited about the women’s positive responses to the event. “The women felt very good about it” she stated, “This project is very meaningful to them because they care deeply about learning and practicing English.”
Most importantly, the enthusiasm, care, and genuine kindness of the attendees made the event truly special. Each local woman showed immense and sincere excitement about practicing English, learning about each other, and becoming closer friends. Anyone can ask non-native English speakers to complete simple writing and speaking exercises, but the inviting and compassionate energy of this workshop created more than a space to practice languages, it created positivity and empowered the community.