Meet Ori Berwald Shaer from Kaz HaZinuk

“The Tel Aviv Bubble” is a term with negative connotations used to describe people who live in Tel Aviv.  And they don’t like that label.  Ori Barwald Shaer is one of them.

Hi, Ori.  Before we get started, give us some of the boring details…

I’m Ori Barwald Shaer, 29, from Kfar Shalem in Tel Aviv Yaffo.  I graduated the first, pioneering year of “Kav Hazinuk.”  At some point, I began to realize that academia is one of the most meaningful avenues I want to operate and be involved in, so I completed my BA in Government and Society, and my MA in Public Policy, Conflict Resolution and Mediation.  I’m engaged to my wonderful partner, Alona, and this coming May we hope to marry.  It’s maximum excitement time!

How did “Kav Hazinuk” impact you?

I can’t even begin to imagine my life without Kav Hazinuk.  I’m not sure I can specifically point to how it’s influenced me, but when it comes to the most important choices I’ve made so far, Kav Hazinuk is definitely among them.  In many ways, it led me to developing areas I hadn’t had knowledge of up until then, made me ask questions, and shifted any number of my stances.

Is there some defining moment you can share?

One of the most significant situations that eventuated because of Kav Hazinuk was to dream about academic study, and the possibility of actually studying, because who even knew if I was suitable?  Or if I’d be accepted? A lot of my senior high school life was spent in a state of “surviving” my studies, but Kav Hazinuk showed me an alternative.  When my girlfriends in the neighborhood panicked at the thought of higher education, I’d already started familiarizing with it from the inside.  The Kav Hazinuk team worked around the idea that contact with universities while we were still in high school – physically, going in there, experiencing this distant concept called “a degree” from up close – was the right approach, and that’s how our romance began.  Even now all my family laugh about how, of the entire family chain, I’m the first to hold a Master’s degree.  It amused everyone that I, of all people, the messiest kid and the so-so student, ended up caught in academia’s net.

But now I think a lot about their joking around, and I’m less enamored of it, because it shows how south Tel Aviv neighborhoods are related to: they’re not nurtured, and that’s precisely the problem.  It’s 20 minutes of travel to university, but it feels like an eternity away to our neighborhood: and I’m not talking about geographical distance.  That’s exactly what I want to change.

I was lucky to receive guidance from the amazing Kav Hazinuk team who showed me options, who helped me reach the life I wanted. But what about my friends who grew up in the same neighborhood?  What about my family, who perhaps can’t afford such things, or aren’t sufficiently familiar with them?  It may sound like a minor issue, but to this day, there’s just one bus running from south Tel Aviv to Tel Aviv University.  And when it does run, it’s only for two hours in the morning… as though someone thinks it’s a bit weird for south Tel Aviv residents to want higher education.  And that’s pretty sad.

Kav Hazinuk believes that participants joining the program need to have some kind of affinity with social intervention and doing.  How did that manifest in your case?

I was 15 when I joined.  I was a teen with tons of energy, and luckily for me, I invested most of it in music and social activism.  I was the (“Municipal 1”) high school student council’s chairperson at the time of the program’s selection process, and simultaneously served as the school’s representative at the municipal students’ council.  I’m not too sure I really knew how to direct my inner self back then as I do now.  Kav Hazinuk hit the sensitive spots in all of us, helping us move forward on issues we were passionate about, and mine were primarily of social and political contexts.

A passion that went with you into your personal and professional life?

Actually, yes, and it wasn’t so simple.  It’s hard for me to ignore the reality we live in, which is why I chose to study government and society.  Parallel to doing my BA, I facilitated groups of Arab and Jewish youth.  After getting my degree I started working with former parliament member, Nitzan Horowitz, who ran in the elections for Tel Aviv Yaffo Mayor.  Then I served as his parliamentary advisory.  During the past year I’ve worked as a campaigner in an organization called “Zazim” – Getting the Community Moving.  Our goal is to lead public struggles and impact the social agenda in areas of human rights, women’s rights, democracy, and free media.  And we’ve had no small number of successes.

Simultaneous to my work, I volunteer at “Hoshen” (Education and Change), a PR organization supporting Israel’s LGBQT community.  We go into classrooms, teachers’ rooms, universities, and even kindergartens.  We go everywhere,sharing our LGBQT life narratives, the purpose being to reduce the cases of violence that this community experiences.  I came to volunteering for this organization from the most private place possible, as a bisexual.  For too many years I was in the closet, it was cramped in there, and it made everything tougher for me, but since coming out I smile so much more, pleased with my decision.  I’m hoping that one day we’ll live in a world that’s accepting, that loves us as we are, without trying to change or limit all the beauty it holds.

What message of importance would you convey to Kav Hazinuk participants?

I would wish you total dedication.  As much as you can.  Not to give up, even when things seem at their toughest.  And there are tough moments.  I remember one year (of the 10 I was in the program) where I didn’t fully understand what I was supposed to be doing, or how things should appear.  So I distanced a little, but luckily for me the coordinator (the incredible Ron Barkai!) didn’t let me go, and we set up a meeting at a coffee shop.  And from that coffee, I went back to being an active participant.  As in every good partnership, I fell in love yet again with Kav Hazinuk.  It’s a framework that’s constantly shaping itself, but its foundations are strongly healthy, which means it’s probably okay to keep a tight hold, not to ease up.  Those years in Kav Hazinuk will prove how much value they hold, like the very best of slow cooking.  I can promise you that!

About Alon Madar