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"University of the North" Published 3-4 times a year, by the division of public affairs and Resource Development.

 

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WINTER 2004-2005

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Unique ‘Open Apartment’ Project Benefits Community and Students


“I direct a club in the neighborhood.  It tries to counter alcohol and drugs among the teenagers there.  The idea is for them to come to the club instead of sitting in the park in the dark, sometimes alone, in the evening.

"There won’t be any drug tests,” I tell them. ‘Just come.  You don’t even have to talk with us.’

“When they come, they don’t even give their real names at first, some of them.  It’s a long process of getting them to open up, taking them off the streets.”

The speaker is not a professional social worker. Eran Bercoviz is a second-year psychology major. Getting wayward kids off the streets and running the club are some of things Eran has to do in exchange for a free room, a scholarship, and a small stipend.

Eran is participating in a unique University project run jointly with the Haifa Municipality and sponsored in part by the Haifa-Boston Connection, which is an undertaking of the City of Haifa and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.  “Open Apartment,” as the project is called, gives students a free “dorm room” in an “inner-city” community in return for 12 hours of working with members of that community on a group or individual basis. 

The Haifa-Boston Connection provides 10 apartments, housing 22 students.  Other partners in the project provide another 15 apartments.  The buildings accommodating the students are located in five of Haifa’s most socio-economically problematic neighborhoods.

“It’s a bargain for everyone, participating students and the community,” says Prof. Ron Robin, Dean of Students.  Noting that the activity is part of the University’s pledge to become involved in the community, he adds, “Everyone benefits. It allows us to assist deserving students in a creative manner, through scholarships and housing opportunities.  In this way, we alleviate a significant proportion of the expenses for students who are without financial resources.

“On the other hand, the project also offers the city a partner in helping to solve many social problems.”   

Focus talked with Eran and two other participating students to learn what it is like for students to give something of themselves in return to the community.  The three represent a microcosm of the University’s—and the project’s—pluralistic character.

Hailing from Upper Nazareth (Natzeret Ilit), Eran, 25, “prefers to help kids rather than to clean floors” to finance his education.  He also views the experience he is gaining as aiding him to go on for a graduate degree. Eran conducts “breakdance” sessions in a club he directs at a community center as way of reaching teenagers.  The dancing enables them to let off steam in a manner that is self-expressive but non-destructive to either others or themselves.  Asked how he gets youngsters to come to his club, he replies, “We’re shown how to find them on the streets.”

All participating students, he might have added, receive common training and cultural programs, which are also intended as a forum for dialogue among students from different ethnic backgrounds.

Eran also works one on one with a Russian-speaking youngster who doesn’t like to study and more often than not stays away from school.  He discovered that the boy loves, and is good at, computers, so he uses the technology to try to draw him into studying.  Although Eran admits that there is a long road ahead before he’ll see any success story, whether with this youngster or any of the others in his club or dance group, he does expect to see results at the end of the academic year.

Alex Altshuler, who emigrated from Minsk in 1997 and whose family lives in Beersheba, is more pessimistic. He doesn’t believe he’ll see results by the end of the year. The 25-year-old social work student, who gained his B.A. in behavioral sciences at Ben-Gurion University and chose Haifa to pursue his Master’s, cites a 7th-grade pupil he is dealing with.  The boy finds that his world is changing and that there are borders he cannot cross, Alex explains. 

Exposed to this family’s problems, which cause them to lose hope at times, he has to dispel their discouragement.  Helping them to solve problems gives him a good feeling, Alex says, and even the boy’s mother has announced, “Now there is a ray of hope.”  He feels that as an immigrant, he has a message to convey to other immigrants.

The challenge of meeting kids on their own turf, as Alex put it, and the experience he is gaining from this interaction are additional compensation to the financial aid he receives from participating in the project. 

Rawan Bisharat, a 22-year-old education and psychology student in her second year at the University, comes from a village near Nazareth called Jaffa of Nazareth.  She wants to give her charges an example of acting together, and is pleased when she sees 3rd graders, Arabs and Jews, holding one another’s hands while coming home from school.

A Christian Arab, she joined the project because it was a good way to stay in Haifa rather than commute the distance from her home every day.  It also provided her with an outlet to help a community advance, which she feels is important.  Her parents completely approve of her decision, she said. She had also worked to this end in summer camps and as a counselor in a Scouts-like youth organization. 

Rawan helps 4th-6th-grade children with their homework and runs a children’s club, where the children enjoy themselves while indirectly learning to relate to one another without distinction and to dismiss stereotypes they have heard from their parents.  She is thrilled when girls in her club who visit the University on a school trip run over to her when they see her on campus. 

Working in the community, she says, gives her a chance to listen to people, old and young, and to talk with them about a variety of problems.  She has gained an immense self-satisfaction from this experience, Rawan said.  “I feel I have found myself.”

The three commented that they effectively spend more than the required 12 hours a week on the project, because they are always thinking about it—which activity to introduce, how to deal with a specific problem, what to discuss at the next group meeting.

They would recommend participation only to students, regardless of field of study, who can accept the challenge of this type of social interaction with a community that may be quite unlike their own.   Though they may have the chance to act as role models, eager students may encounter situations that can prove frustrating and too difficult to cope with, and there have been participating students who have left the project.  “It’s too hard to do just for the money,” one of the trio remarked.  “It’s not for everyone.”

Yet, according to Dean of Students Robin, there has been a demand both by localities outside Haifa that have heard of the success of the Open Apartment project and by students who want to participate in it.  The University intends to expand and extend the unique activity to the extent that it can find the resources to do so.

 

In This Issue:

President’s Focus
Continuity, Change, and Social Responsibility

Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, a Former Negotiator, Reflects on Israel-Jordan Relations
at a Conference Here Marking a Decade of a Formal Peace
Former Jordanian Minister and Negotiator Heads Delegation from Jordan Here

University Obtains Its First Biotech Patent in the U.S.

Researcher Develops Computerized Handwriting Evaluation System

Prof. Yossi Ben-Artzi Named Rector of the University

Prof. David Faraggi—Deputy Rector

What If a Tsunami Hit? First Program of Its Kind in Israel Dealing with Mass Disaster

Eskesta Success Continues

Student Builds Internet Site of Never-Recorded Israeli Army Songs

University Campus Gradually Becoming Wireless

Honors and Appointments

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