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Israel - Vegan Bakery Internship

Overall Rating

9/ 10

  • Social Life

    9

  • Health and Safety

    9

  • Community Impact

    7

  • Living Situation

    9

  • Program Administration

    8

  • Volunteer Experience

    9

Vegan Bakery Extravaganza

This February, I had the opportunity to volunteer in a vegan bakery in Tel-Aviv for 3 weeks. As soon as arrived, I was quickly welcomed into the bakery family by the owner, who is incredibly warm, quirky, and funny. The head pastry chef immediately started teaching me how to work with every type of machinery and food product imaginable. The other baker, too, was always incredible patient and kind and never hesitated to lend me helping hand or explain instructions again.
Every day, they would guide me through new recipes, techniques, and how to overcome the challenges of baking vegan (without eggs, dairy, etc). By the end of my three weeks, I was familiar with almost all the products and techniques used in the bakery. My jobs included all parts of the baking process: cutting freezing cold cookies, operating the dough machine, operating the mixing machine, packaging mousse cakes, making batters, scaling ingredients, unloading products from the frigid-cold walk-in freezer, rolling croissants, forming pie crusts, operating the oven, and even learning the Hebrew words for many baking products. Each day was different, new, and kept me busy and challenged mentally and physically.
One night, the owner even invited me to bake with him for the anniversary of a different upscale vegan restaurant in Tel-Aviv. I really enjoyed “baking on the spot” with him and truly felt like a real baker :)
And of course, another plus was the fabulous food-- not only was I able to sample many of the yummy pastries, but the bakers always cooked incredibly delicious, healthy lunches that I already miss.
While I did learn many important concrete skills at my three weeks in the bakery, I also took away many life lessons from all the baking I did: the importance of timing and safety, being aware of space and people around you, finding a balance between being gentle and rough and focusing on quality vs. quantity, performing tasks in the easiest and most timely manner, and not being to hard on myself if I made a mistake (e.g. shattering glass jars or dropping entire bowls of batter).
In short, volunteering at the vegan bakery was a meaningful experience and I gained much from it. I will be sure to use many of the skills I picked up even in the short time I was there and hopefully re-create many of the yummy recipes I learned. Thank you to all the staff at the bakery for a great three weeks-- I hope to be back someday and maybe even wait on line next time for a sweet-potato quiche, apple crumble pie, chocolate-cranberry cookie, or chocolate croissant...

Overall Rating

8/ 10

  • Social Life

    8

  • Health and Safety

    4

  • Community Impact

    6

  • Living Situation

    7

  • Program Administration

    8

  • Volunteer Experience

    7

Not perfect, but a great experience overall

I volunteered at this vegan bakery for six weeks. Over the course of those weeks, I went from disliking my volunteer experience to thoroughly enjoying it. So, I think I'm in an appropriate position to explain some of the good and bad parts of the program.

THE GOOD:
- Vegan-ness - Everything that the bakery makes is vegan, as you've probably already figured out. For the vegans like me out there, that's awesome because it means you're only handling vegan food. You'll also likely get to sample some of the baked goods, with the luxury of never having to question beforehand whether they are vegan or not. But even if you're not vegan, if you like baking, you'll enjoy learning the bakery's tricks to make delicious vegan food!
- The people - Everyone at the bakery is a lot of fun, especially once you get to know them. The owner is a perpetual joker, the delivery guy is full of great stories, and the women in the kitchen usually go along with the two of them, to humorous effect. On my last day, I was serenaded with an improvised lyrical rewrite of The Beatles' "Yesterday," if that gives you any idea of the type of people I'm talking about.
- The location - Tel Aviv rocks. Many restaurants accommodate vegans (those with the "Vegan-Friendly" stickers and more), and there are quite a few all-vegan restaurants as well (try The Vegan Shawarma on King George Street). Plus, vegan ice cream is all over the place! But if vegan food isn't a top priority for you, you'll still love Tel Aviv. You'll be a short walk from the beach, and you'll easily be able to visit Jaffa just to the south. Since Israel is relatively small, you can also visit other places in Israel and Palestine without excessive travel.

THE BAD:
- Poor food sanitation: When it comes to food, cleanliness is a big deal for me, so I was upset to see fairly low sanitation standards at the bakery. (These low standards aren't necessarily unique to the bakery, though - in general, Israel doesn't value food sanitation as highly as North Americans do. That said, on a worldwide scale, Israel is probably towards the middle of the pack.) This problem was what caused most of my initial dissatisfaction with my experience, but I eventually became somewhat desensitized when I saw food being handled in less-than-sanitary ways.
- Tight workspace - The kitchen is very narrow, so if there are too many people working inside, it can be frustrating when you're trying to move around. This is only a problem when there are several volunteers at a time, though, which isn't always the case.

Overall, I had a great experience in Israel. The longer I was there, the better my experience became. If you can, I'd recommend going for at least a month so that you really have time to get to know the way the bakery operates and the people who work there. On a longer trip, you'll also have more chances to explore Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and other areas. Learn some Hebrew, and eat plenty of falafel, and have fun!