Israel & Global Initiatives

Aziel

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The following was written by Ben Horowitz, following his participation in this year's Bonim Fellows trip. A senior at The Benjamin School and a gold congressional medal winner, he attends Temple Israel.

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His name was Aziel. We were dissimilar in many ways. He was half my age from halfway around the world. I speak English; he speaks Hebrew. My smile reveals a full head of teeth while his exposed tiny projections in the previously vacant spaces where his two front uppers belong. I have a private high school education, whereas he is enrolled in the Tzfat, Hatzor and Rosh Pina public elementary school system. I have a father who I lift weights with every Wednesday, while he awaits his father's return from prison.

Aziel and I met at a camp for underprivileged children this past summer. He was one of the 75 campers that I -- along with nine American and 12 Israeli teenagers -- were responsible for looking after and teaching English. The ongoing list of differences we and the children had provided the preconceived notion that the experimental program would be a disaster. Yet for every distinction Aziel and I did not share, I recognized a piece of myself as a child in him. Like I was once, Aziel was particularly smaller than all the other kids but exponentially more hyper. He loved to laugh, run and play with the other kids. Above all, he always had to be occupied, just as I did.

Unfortunately, he was too young to participate in camp activities and was in attendance merely because of his older sister. Neither his peers nor the adult supervisors understood his need for activity. He coped with the loneliness by lashing out. Because no one accepted him, he refused to let anyone in. The supervisors, frustrated with his conduct, incessantly punished him and nearly expelled him from camp.

I wanted to intervene, but there was a strong verbal communication barrier between the two of us, and breaking through to Aziel was like trying to run through a brick wall. I knew I would have to find a language we could both speak.

As he slouched over a pavement ledge, pouting in time-out, I approached him and sat down. I furtively slipped my hand into my pocket and grabbed my ear buds and MP3 player. Just as I was about to place one of the buds in his ear, his little hand reached out to block me. Determined to reach out to him, however, I quickly maneuvered my arm around his and shoved the bud into his ear. In a matter of a half-second, his face transformed from a frustrating look of struggle to defend himself to that beaming smile which revealed his missing teeth as The Go-Go's "We Got the Beat" sounded through the speaker.

We spent the rest of that day exploring my music library, jumping from artist to artist, spanning all sounds and genres. We went on to teach each other counting and other things in our respective languages in the remaining days of camp. Aziel gave me so much more than that, though. I got to see the world through his eyes for a week, reminding myself of what it meant to be a kid. He taught me to pursue happiness above all other things, to share with others by means of experiences, and to not forget who I am.

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