Stephanie Reisfeld

Stephanie Reisfeld is originally from San Francisco, and brought her love of dance and movement to Tikkun Olam. Today she is living in Seattle, completing her MFA and working at the Pacific Northwest Ballet.
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In the spring of 2008, I graduated college with a bachelor’s degree in Dance from the University of Oregon. My plans were to work my fourth summer at Camp Tawonga, -- the Jewish summer camp in Yosemite, California, that I have attended since age 9 – then return to my home in San Francisco to pursue a job in one of two places: the performing arts or the non-profit Jewish world.
Having grown up in a Reform synagogue, been a Taglit Birthright participant ta few years ago, and having spent many years at a Jewish summer camp, I naturally developed a deeper connection, love, and sense of obligation to Israel.
This interest and sense of obligation spurred my decision to find a long-term program here in Tel Aviv for the year following school. As a recent college graduate, I was itching to travel, and as a young Jewish woman with vague professional plans post-graduation, I decided to spend the year giving back to Israel in my own way.
Upon researching the MASA website, I discovered a program called Tikkun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, which offered a perfect combination of volunteering, study and travel.
Our volunteer work centers around populations-in-need, here in South Tel Aviv. We work with at-risk children and children with disabilities, asylum seekers and refugees, in community centers, schools, and coexistence settings. I spend my week teaching English to boys at religious high school, working at an unrecognized kindergarten for children of illegal immigrants, and teaching gymnastics to 4–8 year-old girls at the Arab Jewish Community Center in Jaffa.
Having been a gymnast and dancer my whole life, as well as a counselor at a Jewish summer camp, the opportunity to coach gymnastics, work with kids, and gain experience in a coexistence setting was absolutely perfect.
During the past few months that I have coached at the Arab Jewish Community Center, my girls have grown by leaps and bounds. When I began coaching, many of them were afraid to be upside down, hesitated to try new skills, and displayed social anxiety and lack of self-confidence. Now, four months later, they attempt difficult new skills on their own, beg to be the example for the class, and have developed friendships amongst themselves, oblivious to the cultural or religious differences within the group.
This month, we had our first gymnastics competition, in which my 6 – 7 year olds took first place, not only for their apparatus, but also for their age group. They competed against many other teams from across Tel Aviv.
Upon winning, the girls jumped up and down, ecstatically hugging each other and cheering. As they stepped up to the podium to receive their medals and trophy, they were gracious winners to the other gymnasts. I could not have been more proud.
All of my volunteer work this year through Tikkun Olam has been rewarding and interesting. My experience coaching gymnastics at the Arab Jewish Community Center has shown me the powerful influence that teachers and coaches can have on young people, and has led me to seriously consider pursuing coaching after my program concludes.
Regardless of where I go or what I do after this year of volunteering, I will always feel more deeply connected to Israel. I came here to travel and give back to a country that has given me so much, and have found it to keep giving even as I serve.