Since 1998 I have spent some time almost every year in Israel. For the first few years, I used my vacation to see places and people I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years. I took tours and checked off items on my “must see” list. After a few years, I found that I was spending too much time looking for ways to stay busy – going to souvenir stores and looking for gifts to bring back to… hmmm, I don’t know; drinking yet another cup of coffee in a coffee shop; meeting friends for a short lunch because they didn’t have time for a long lunch.
Then I learned about Skilled Volunteers for Israel from my dear friend, Terry Hendin. What an amazing idea. Spend time in Israel and work for a not-for-profit organization with Israelis; feel useful and experience The Land as a resident.
So this year’s trip was different. I was busy – very busy. Three to four mornings a week, I packed a lunch, dressed in “work clothes” (a nice shirt rather than a t-shirt with my jeans), got on a bus, and went to an office (or a school, depending on the day). My weekends were Friday and Saturday and my week started on Sunday. I worked with Israelis and contributed positively to the mission of the organization. I heard about traffic jams and movies and the escapades of the children of the people I worked with. We talked about the sad fate of the oldest movie house in Jerusalem which was about to close. (Did it really close? I never heard…)
And, throughout my too-short visit, Terry checked in with me on a regular basis – not just as a friend, but as the Israeli liaison for Skilled Volunteers. Was all going well? Did I have any questions? Was there anything I needed? (This became especially important after a rather nasty fall one evening when I really banged up my knee!)
I felt like a cog in the wheel. I was able to take one tiny shard from the broken vessel and put it back where it belongs – to make a small contribution to Tikun Olam. And, at the end of my visit, I was celebrated with some wonderful pastry, good wishes, and a certificate.
I’ve pretty much decided that being a “regular” tourist in Israel is no longer in the cards for me. I am already looking forward to my next trip when I will spend time volunteering again – perhaps with the same organization and perhaps with another.
Barbara Seaver, Chicago