By Beth “Missie” Polasky
This might sound terrible, but I’m jealous of my son. Nadav, 19, is part of the current Tivnu cohort (affectionately known as the Tivnoodles) and is having a wonderful year. But enough about him (!) – this is about me, and my jealousy.
Sam and I went out to Portland a few weeks ago to spend a few days with Nadav – to meet his friends, to see where he’s been working, and to explore some of his favorite spots in Portland with him.
A little background: Sam and I each did a gap year – he represented Australian Habonim back in ’76, and I represented Young Judaea in ’80 when we each spent a year in Israel before college. We had fun, we worked hard at times, learned Hebrew, made lifelong friends, all good. Our daughter, Hannah, also did a gap year, with City Year in DC before college. We were extremely proud of her commitment to City Year and to her students at her school in SouthEast DC. We were also often worried. But I was never jealous.
Tivnu is a different story. Tivnu is the program many of wish we had done, we just don’t know it! It offers community, informal learning, Jewish holidays and Shabbat celebrated with joy and creativity, a few adult eyes and/or shoulders for guidance or consultation, all while doing incredibly meaningful work.
Our first morning in Portland, Erik, the Tivnu Construction Trainer, picked us up in the Tivnu van and drove us to the construction site where Nadav and his cohorts have been working with Habitat for Humanity. Two days a week, (or more, depending on interest and other placements) they work alongside other volunteers. Nadav showed us the support beams on the front porch that he had installed, the drywall he had helped to hang, and the concrete he had mixed and poured. One of the homes was near completion, and Nadav pointed out the bedroom that will soon be inhabited by a young child. This is life-changing work, and Nadav will never take having a roof, walls, or a place to call home for granted.
But the pride I felt at the Habitat site doesn’t compare to the awe I experienced when Nadav told us over dinner that he had recognized a lot of people as we wandered around downtown Portland, but he only gave a brief nod to them because they were with other people, and he knew them either from his internship at Sisters of the Road Café (a unique sort of Soup Kitchen) or The Living Room, an outpatient support place for people battling mental illness and/or addiction. Nadav, and his friends who work at similar placements, are learning firsthand that a kind word, and respect, can make a difference to anyone facing challenges.
And, all this, in Portland! Nadav was a great tour guide, and took us to his favorite street, (Alberta), spot (Hawthorne) and sweets (Blue Star donuts). We visited the Farmer’s Market at PSU, hiked a little in Forest Park, crossed the St. Johns Bridge over the Willamette River (or so they tell me, I could not look down), ate at a vegan café, rode a bunch of buses, and fell in love with the city.
We experienced the pre-Shabbat cooking and cleaning bustle at the Tivnu house, and sat down to a lively dinner for twenty, including Tivnu staff and family members. We heard stories about their recent trip to Seattle as well as their trip to Mt. Hood earlier in the month. We heard the kind of “you had to be there” jokes that are the hallmark of a tight community.
Normally I’d be embarrassed to admit my jealousy, but as you can tell, it’s well placed. I simply could not design a better gap year program. I’m jealous, yes, but also incredibly proud of Nadav, and I’m delighted that he’s had the opportunity to be a part of Tivnu: Building Justice.
P.S. Watch the video! Nadav is the one with pony tail, in the apron, at Sisters of the Road!