Reut Srugo interviews Natalie Levy on behalf of the Practicum newsletter of the Department of Human Services at Yezreel Valley College (In Hebrew). Natalie is participating in a practical training course for the public housing residents’ empowerment groups as a part of a project with Rabbis for Human Rights. Two years ago, the practicum project earned first prize at a Yezreel Valley College contest (link in Hebrew). In addition to greatly influencing the field itself, the project has also had a powerful impact on the students themselves.
Natalie, tell us about Rabbis for Human Rights.
The organization works to promote weak populations in various fields and exerts pressure to help defend the rights of minorities in Israel. We are working in the field of public housing to help people claim all of their social rights and deal with the bureaucracy at the Ministry of Housing and Amidar, the state-owned housing company. As part of our work, we visit with people in housing units and we conduct empowerment meetings, which is a really central component of our activity.
What are empowerment meetings and why do they matter?
In a tough neighborhood where most of the housing issues are concentrated, there’s a meeting with the residents of the apartment buildings once a week. The goal of these meetings is that by the end of a three month period, every building will have a person who is in charge of helping out with the residents’ referrals, who will direct the group and serve as their leader in the future. Rabbi Kobi Weiss, our facilitator, gives them tools for how to operate, what they need to do for themselves, instead of expecting things to be handed to them. As part of the meetings, rabbis come and run study sessions. Even the mayor came to one of the meetings. We seek to expand our project to new neighborhoods and to provide a solution to all public housing residents.
Do you feel like you got something out of participating in the practicum this year?
The internship gave me a network of contacts and I learned how to speak in front of an audience and also how to better talk to people. I gained exposure to Israel’s public housing problems and to the fact that there really are people in desperate situations. I learned how to approach people with empathy, to not attack, and in other situations to be assertive, how to listen and what to do to help them. The theoretical knowledge that I learned in class helped, obviously. One other important thing that I learned this year is not to judge people based on stereotypes.
WATCH: Our project to empower public housing residents in Beit She’an got into the top 5 at the Yezreel Valley College competition! The presentation was made by the students Tair Nassi and Natalie Levy (in Hebrew):
Do you feel that your practicum with Rabbis for Human Rights influenced your identity as a woman working in human services? If so, how did that look in practice?
Yes. On a personal level, it changed how I see the field that I want to work in. As in, not necessarily in recruiting and placement, but the social aspect – I guess I now prefer to do active work in the field rather than office work. At this organization there’s only a little bit of administrative work like entering people’s telephone information and there’s a lot more activity out in the field. This semester showed other elements that you don’t see in every organization. Last year I was in a more administrative role. This year I discovered that there is a lot of room to be creative. I’m a person interested in building creative solutions, and here I learned that it’s possible to integrate that approach into your practicum, to go beyond just doing office work. It’s important to me to bring my own voice into my work.
Did you ever get the feeling that you were doing something not related to your practicum?
There were a number of situations like that – it makes sense that more situations like these will take place, like in every organization. When that happens I say to myself, if this is what my manager wants me to do then it’s fine, I don’t need to worry that they are taking advantage or wonder whether it’s ok. Instead I should go with it, do what they expect, but make sure I get explanations for what I’m doing. Also, my facilitator was always trying to make me feel good, and was considerate, calming and supportive.
What would you like to accomplish by the end of the year?
I want to win the department’s outstanding project award this year. In my opinion, every student in our program wants to earn that honor. When they consider you for the outstanding project award, it means that your work is visible, that they see that you worked for the organization. That kind of recognition would bring me satisfaction both on the inside and on an external level.
In your opinion, when you enter the job market, will you have an advantage over students who didn’t do a practicum?
Of course. Last year I was in a recruitment and placement office and I got to know people who didn’t do a practicum and lacked experience. You learn a lot from your facilitator in the field alongside guidance from lecturers in class.
From the the newsletter of the practicum for the course in social services at Yezreel Valley College (page 6 in Hebrew) | More about the empowerment groups in Beit She’an (also in Hebrew)