Open Apartments, Open Hearts

December 5, 2016

Negev Development & Community Programs

At Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, social action is in its DNA. The only Israeli university charged with a government mandate to serve and develop the region, students and faculty are deeply engaged in the community.

Some 40 percent of undergraduate students take time out of their rigorous academic schedules to volunteer in underprivileged communities in Beer-Sheva.

One meaningful volunteer opportunity is the Lillian and Larry Goodman Open Apartments Program, where students (Goodman fellows) live and immerse themselves in Beer-Sheva’s oldest and most socio-economically challenged neighborhoods.

In exchange for rent-free accommodations, each student spends at least eight hours a week running after-school activities, including homework clubs, sports, dance, drama, martial arts, and more. They also “adopt” families, mentor adults, work with senior citizens, create community-wide holiday programs, and plant community gardens.

BGU students in the Open Apartments Program organize community events, such as Chanukah plays.

BGU students in the Open Apartments Program organize community events, such as Chanukah plays.

Yehoshua Zilberstein is a Goodman fellow. He says, “I study education because of how I grew up in a neighborhood similar to the one I work in now. Education is the key for change and this program really gives me the chance to change our reality.”

Yehoshua provides children with homework help who cannot get it at home. “Kids who were getting Fs have joined the club and started passing their exams; they’ve started caring about school!”

Another student volunteer, Chen Sorkan, first experienced the program as a child. She had the opportunity to take a computer class taught by a BGU student from the Open Apartments Program.

“I remember it as one of the most meaningful experiences of my childhood,” says Chen. “When I became a student at BGU I knew I wanted to participate in this program.”

Chen teaches a Hebrew class for Russian speakers and runs a club on community gardening. “I love exposing neighborhood residents to my life as a student – urging them to get out of the house, get to know their neighbors, and even make new friends – all while learning Hebrew,” she says.

“Growing up in the neighborhood, all I wanted was to feel like I belonged. The BGU students were a source of inspiration to us kids. They made us believe that it’s possible to change your life and to overcome language barriers.”

Husan Ziyud, originally from the Israeli Arab village of Shfaram, has been an Open Apartments volunteer throughout his undergraduate studies at BGU.
“I taught a community theatre class to senior citizens,” says Husan.

Goodman fellow Husan Ziyud (left) with members of his community theatre group and other neighborhood residents.

Goodman Fellow Husan Ziyud (left) with other student volunteers and community theatre group participants

The class was not only an enlightening experience for the older adults, but also for Husan. “I learned about Israeli society in all its complexity from a different perspective. I learned you can make change through theatre that focuses on the problems of daily life in the neighborhood.”

Rina Siri is a 36-year-old single mother of four who has lived in the Dalet neighborhood her whole life. She has gotten to know many Goodman fellows over the years, especially through her kids.

“The students are an amazing team and are doing such important work,” says Rina. “Even though they are very busy with their schoolwork, they devote so much of their time to the kids. Their work is deeply appreciated.”

This important program is in need of funds to support the 73 apartments, 100 students and 92 clubs that serve more than 2,000 neighborhood residents of all ages each year.

Any amount donated to the Open Apartments Program will be matched by the Goodman Supporting Foundations. Donate now >>