November 12, 2015

Five Things

By Josh Gidanian

Here are five things I’ve learned in these first few months of the Tivnu gap year program. They range from pretty concrete tips to bigger life lessons – and I’m surprised by how often the two are related:

Construction Tips & Tricks at Habitat for Humanity
I’ve learned a lot of tricks at Habitat for Humanity. I’m really interested in construction and building, so all of the tips have been really useful. One of the first things I learned at Habitat was an easier way to remove nails. A lot of people try to just pull the nail directly out, but it can be dangerous. If you use your hammer to pull, you can get tired easily, and if the nail slips out, you might have a flying hammer. I did that once, and it really freaked me out. Instead, you can smack the nail with the curved end of the hammer. It’s more efficient and won’t make you as tired from a simple task.

Speaking of efficiency, I’ve also learned a lot about mudding. To mud, you need to pour mud on a sheet rock. My instinct would be to put small scoops of mud at a time, smooth it out, and then add more mud. But, at the jobsite I learned that it’s quicker to drop the mud all at once, and then smooth it out. It’s also important because if you pour all of the mud at once, you don’t run the risk of pausing partway through the task and getting distracted by something else before you can finish. I’ve learned it’s better to take on a bigger challenge all at once instead of putting it off and maybe not getting everything done.

A picture of me at Habitat for Humanity.

A picture of me at Habitat for Humanity.

Having your Own Way while Living Communally
Communal living has its rewards and many challenges. One of the main things I’ve learned from building a communal space with the other Tivnu participants is that for the good of the group, you can’t always have things your way. One example of this happened very early on in the year. We take Sunday afternoon trips a couple of times a month to help build community and to help us get to know Portland a bit better. On our first Sunday, we were deciding between attending the Oregon State Fair and a discount weekend at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). I wanted to go to the fair. I thought that because it only happens once a year, and we could visit OMSI anytime, it was the activity that made the most sense. But, it wasn’t that simple for other people. Some of my housemates were worried there wouldn’t be any kosher food, and some of them didn’t want to pay extra money for rides and games at the fair. The group voted to go to OMSI, but we were given the choice to split up, and go to the fair if we wanted to. I was the main person who wanted to to the State Fair, but I decided it was more important to keep the Tivnu mishpacha (family) together. Sometimes, it’s more important to compromise on the things you really want to keep a community together.

Some of the Tivnu family enjoying a meal together.

Some of the Tivnu family enjoying a meal together.

How to Set up a Tarp While Camping
For the end of Tivnu orientation, we went on a camping trip. I used to camp with the Boy Scouts and I was used to cold, but had never camped in rain before. (I’m from California!) But, our trip to Scott Lake was very rainy. It rained for three whole days, nonstop. I never wanted to leave my tent.

When we set up our tent, we laid our tarp flat, but then, it started to rain. A lot. I thought it might be a good idea to curve the tarp up so that the water wouldn’t stay on the ground and roll into the tent but I decided against it. Because we didn’t take the time to fix our tarp, the water leaked in. I learned to never lay the tarp flat- always curve it up! I also learned I should always go with my gut. I should have fixed it instead of ignoring my instincts.

Even with the rain, the camping trip was a lot of fun!

Even with the rain, the camping trip was a lot of fun!

How to Cook for Other People
Living in a house of 8 people means that when it’s time to share a meal there’s a lot of cooking to do! We have a communal meal two or three times a week, and we invite people from the community to some of those meals. We take turns cooking for each other, and during my first turn cooking dinner, I decided to make a rice dish that my grandparents used to make a lot. My mom sent me the recipe but it was getting annoying to follow, so I threw all of the ingredients together in the pot and hoped for the best. It didn’t come out quite right. It definitely didn’t look or taste like my grandparents’ recipe. It was very sticky and all stuck to the pot a bit. I was also worried there wouldn’t be enough food, so I doubled the recipe so there was way too much food. But in the end, everyone was very polite and smiled as they ate each bite. I learned that while things can’t always be exactly like they are at home, a little bit of kindness and flexibility can help create new traditions (like sticky rice!)

 Living in Homelessness Can be Very Difficult
Every Monday, I intern at JOIN, a day shelter for people experiencing homelessness. When I work at JOIN, I help people fulfill basic needs: We offer a clothing closet and sometimes I help serve food. I also distribute hats, blankets, even samples of medication, etc. These are things that I’ve always had the privilege of taking for granted. I’ve learned that living in homelessness is a lot more complicated that I ever knew it was. One of the services that surprises me the most is that people living in homelessness are able to pick up their mail at JOIN. I had never thought about how hard it must be to not have a central place for loved ones, doctors, potential employers, or anyone else to reach you.

I feel very positive about the work that I do at JOIN. It feels like I’m helping create a space for community, and a place of safety. I’d never realized just how important those things are to a person’s well-being.


I’ve already learned so much, and it’s only November. I can’t wait to see what else I learn before my year with Tivnu is over!


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