The #etnographquarantinedan, Episodes 12+13: Yael Lobaton, 17, and Danielle Mirensky, 18, both from Mexico City, Mexico
The conversation was held in English using the hotel room phone.
My interviews with Yael and Danielle were among my favourites. Yael is the niece of Dr Sarah Cohen Shabot, a good friend and the chair of the Master’s Program in Women's and Gender Studies at Haifa University. As soon as she realised we were in the same hotel, she made the connection between us. Yael is sharing a room with Danielle. Unfortunately, even though we were on the same side of the hotel, I couldn't see or take a photo of them from my balcony. I, therefore, asked them to take a selfie for the project: Yael is in the yellow vest top and Danielle in the black T-shirt.
Yael arrived in Israel as part of the Masa Israel Journey, a programme founded in 2004 by the Prime Minister's Office together with the Jewish Agency with the aim to "expand the independence and personality of young Jews (ages 18–30) through a challenging, formative and unique experience in Israel. It also aims to enhance their Jewish identity, their engagement in activism around the world, while emphasising Israel as a world Jewish centre."
Most of Yael's family, whom today live in Mexico, came from Spain, Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Poland. She also has a family in Israel (Haifa and Jerusalem) and has visited Israel twice before. Her first visit was seven years ago with her family, followed by a school trip three years ago. She attended a Jewish school and was also a counsellor in the Zionist youth movement Hechalutz LaMerhav, where she met her quarantine roommate, Danielle.
Why did she choose to participate in the programme? "My parents really insisted that I come to Israel. They participated in the same program when they were young and liked it very much. My older sister [Yael is the second of three girls] came to Israel as part of this programme as well, and she highly recommended it for me. To be honest, I was actually afraid to come because it means being apart from my family for a long time and it's the first time I'm leaving for such a long time, but they insisted." At the end of the quarantine, she will join the rest of the group, which comprises young people from Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil. They will study Hebrew in Jerusalem and then will spend the rest of the year working in both a kibbutz and doing community work.
What was it like growing up in the Jewish community in Mexico City? "Look, our community is neither orthodox nor liberal, something in between. I feel very close to Israel and Judaism, and that's how I learned Hebrew, but the Jewish community is not so keen on mixing with other communities. Sometimes I feel it's too segregated, and I would prefer to go outside of the community and to mix a little bit."
How has her experience of COVID-19 been? "In Mexico, it was very challenging. The government didn't take it seriously. Before I came to Israel, our whole family decided to put ourselves in self-isolation for five months. Even schools were closed. Now they are starting to reopen again, but the situation was bad, and a lot of people got sick, some of them from our community, although I don't know them personally."
In the future, Yael wants to study biotechnology in Spain. She thinks it will be easier for her there because of the language. She also likes the weather in Spain and the different possibilities of employment.
Like her roommate Yael, Danielle has also come to Israel for a year to participate in the Masa Israel Journey programme. They know each other from the Zionist youth movement Hechalutz LaMerhav.
Danielle's family is not so big; some live in Israel but most are in Argentina and Mexico, originating from Russia, Turkey, Italy, and Ukraine. Danielle has visited Israel twice before: once when she was two years old and again when she was nine. She has wanted to return to Israel ever since. Her older brother also participated in this programme, and next year he will begin his studies at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. As with Yael, Danielle's parents came to Israel on the programme when they were younger and encouraged their children to do the same.
Why did she join the programme? "Because my parents and my brother did it and enjoyed it very much and also because I wanted to get to know people from different parts of the world, get to know Israel better, and learn Hebrew. I don't know Hebrew. Although we were part of the Jewish community, my parents chose to send me to a school outside of the community. I liked it because it allowed me to meet more people. Most of the people in the Jewish community live in a closed community and rarely encounter the outside world. Usually, it only happens at the end of high school. I think it's a shame."
In the future, Danielle wants to study medicine in England. Why England? "There is no chance I will live in the USA and London seems like a really cool place to live." She is spending her time in quarantine studying, among other things. She took a few online courses to help her with future applications to medical school. For her community work in Israel, she wants to volunteer in Magen David Adom (the Israeli Red Cross organisation) to gain some experience.