Lior Zorno – Hefetz
At the age of 26, this impressive young woman has managed to influence a whole city in Israel. Born in Mexico, this idealistic will-driven woman has decided together with her new husband Matan, to set their home in the difficult city of Lod. Today, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Sociology from the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yafo, she is the manager of Ayalim’s Lod Student Village.
Geographically located only 15 minutes away from Tel-Aviv, the city of Lod is light years away in fields of education, culture, social issues and economy. It yearns for development and for strong young idealists.
What brought you to Ayalim?
Well, the story begins way back. I was born in Mexico, where I grew up until the age of 10, when my family decided to make “Aliya”- to move to Israel. Growing up in Mexico, we were part of a strong Jewish community and Judaism was an integral part of my identity. Our life in Mexico wasn’t “religious” but very traditionally Jewish; celebrating Shabbat and the Jewish holidays, learning about Judaism and feeling a strong sense of a Zionistic and Jewish identity. Upon making Aliya, my family settled in the largely secular city of Herzelia, 20 minutes from Tel Aviv. In Herzelia I made new friends and adapted to my new home, but experienced an identity crises: all of a sudden my surroundings spoke a completely different language than the one I knew and spoke my whole life. This language gap wasn’t due to the difficulty learning Hebrew; the spoken values of my newfound neighbors in the secular society of Herzelia lacked familiar words of Zionism, of community, of ideology, of belief.
Only when I began my army service, where once again I was part of an idealistic community, did I realize that that was what lacked during all of those years I spent in Herzelia. In the army I once again felt fulfilled, regenerated with Zionism, Judaism, activeness and a connection to something bigger than myself.
I served as an infantry instructor, teaching combat soldiers. I later on continued to become an IDF officer and stayed in the army for an additional 2 years (beyond the 2 years mandatory for women).
After completing my army service I returned to Herzelia and began studying psychology and sociology in the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yafo. I had friends who studies down in Be’er Sheva and belonged to Ayalim Villages in the south. When I went to visit these friends, I fell in love with the concept of Ayalim and with the idea of living in a Student Village. I felt that this is what I should be doing with my life, and I began the process of transferring to Ben Gurion University so that I could follow my heart and realize this dream of mine.
Around the same time, Matan and I got married and since Matan is chose a military career and he is frequently not at home, my need to part of a community grew even stronger.
Right as we were making plans to move down south, by chance I noticed a small sign in Lod stating “A new Ayalim Student Village will soon be built here”. So I thought- here’s my chance! I wouldn’t have guessed that the village would really be built by the beginning of the school year but it was! And so instead of transferring to Ben Gurion, I managed to stay on the academic track I began yet still be part of an Ayalim Village.
So you were one of the first residents of the Lod village! Can you tell me how that was?
Well, if becoming a true pioneer was what I was looking for- I sure did find it! That first year there were only 14 of us students, with no internet infrastructure. For the first 3 months we had a generator providing us with electricity! It was a difficult first year but it really built us as a team and made us become a community. Not only did it help us become more united and consolidated but it also created a connection between us and our new neighbors- the people of Lod. Is seems like yesterday but it was already 3 years ago!
Can you tell me about your responsibilities in the Village?
During my first year here, I was the coordinator of the pre-army volunteers we have here. Back then, 3 years ago, there were no other pre-army programs operating in Lod, we were the first. Today there are already 6 programs for pre-army volunteers in Lod, an incredible change.
During my second year here, I was the coordinator of the “big brother/sister” project. The project teams up every student with a child of Lod; helping with school work and simply being a big brother for that child. Being in that position, I fell in love with the work here and with the people working with me. I saw that the work we did was really needed, that Lod was hungry for such an activity.
This year is my 3rd year in the village. I’ve already finished my academic studies but I just couldn’t leave the village! So we stayed in the village and this year I am the village manager.
As the village manager, can you tell me more about the unique programs your village runs?
We operate in 3 main levels. First, we operate on the educational level. We have our Ofarim Family Center that caters to the children of both the Jewish and the Arab populations of the city. In the Ofarim center we also lead programs for the local youth. In addition, we run the “big brother”. We have also built an agricultural farm in a local school, with the vision of teaching children about their environment as well as about taking responsibility.
The second level is that of community connections- we feel it is crucial that the village and its students are connected to the wider community of Lod and its people. We lead different projects aiming to strengthen this connection. One example is a project in which once a week our students ware our village t-shirt and go out to the market to help older people carry their bags home. The people of Lod love this project- we’ve received amazing feedback and appreciation.
The third level is a cultural one- our village has opened the first (!!!) pub in the city, open to students and to other residents of Lod alike! The pub is a real cultural hub- just 2 weeks ago we held an evening of “Science on the Bar” where we had researchers and lecturers come to the pub and talk about interesting things- it was a huge success! In addition we hold mega events around the holidays, for the students and the people of Lod. We also emphasize cultural activities as a community in order to continue to build ourselves as a group. We gather once a week to learn together and to discuss different issues and we lead various group activities.
We have recently opened a vintage shop, open to all residents of Lod, where our students sell things that they don’t need any more. All of the money goes to new projects that we lead in Lod.
There are now 87 students living here in the village and 7 pre-army volunteers. We have a lot going on here in Lod and it’s only the beginning…!
Do you see yourself continuing to live here?
Absolutely. Everything I look for is right here- social activism and a community life. The thing that is most meaningful to me here is that the things we do really are significant and truly make a difference in the lives of people here. True, we aren’t helping the wilderness bloom but I feel we are helping the lives of people bloom, which is just as important in my eyes. I am extremely connected to the city and to it’s people, I am grateful for this opportunity.
Next time you’re in Tel-Aviv, make sure to take a 15 minute drive to its neighboring Lod, where you’ll find the busiest woman in Israel. warmly invite you for a cup of coffee or a beer in the local pub. At the young age of 26, an impressive woman Home not only to Israel’s National Airport, the city of Lod has become home to an incredible group of young and vibrant students!