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A Volunteer’s Language Skills Connect Past and Present

Updated: Apr 3

Julia Kushnir, Post Doctorate Researcher in Energy & Environmental Policy

Before I came to Jerusalem this summer, I did not have an idea about what the best place for volunteering for me could be.  Because of my lack of experience in volunteering work, I could not specify my needs and expectations. However, one thing was clear: I wanted to do something useful in my free time between the classes at the school. Moreover, I wished to find out more about the activities of the organizations and companies in the energy and environmental fields in Israel. In addition, I hoped to try something different, where my skills were in demand, where I could learn people and become acquainted with the working culture in Israel.

After a range of telephone discussions and email exchanges, Marla Gamoran, the Executive Director of Skilled Volunteers for Israel, suggested that I work as a volunteer at the Oral History Division in the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  The department needed somebody with knowledge of the German language to summarize the interviews with Holocaust survivors and Germans who lived during the Second World War, conducted in Germany in the 1980s and I was glad to do it.

When I arrived in Jerusalem, I was immediately contacted by Judy and Marla who gave me a detailed instruction about what I would do and where my working place will be. Judy personally took me to the university and introduced all the people at the oral history department. Thus, from the first day I received wonderful support and a lot of attention from the organizers of my volunteer placement.

My work began with a detailed introduction about ongoing projects at the department and about my task. When I saw hundreds of archive files around me, I worried whether I could cope with all that information. However, the colleagues from the department given me a lot of help, so it was much easier to work on these files later. The subjects of the interviews were very difficult and emotionally challenging. Despite this, it was a rewarding experience to help contribute to an understanding of this very complex relationship. Moreover, I met a lot of wonderful people who gave me a warm welcome every time and shared their knowledge and experience with me – Nava, Ofer, Sharon, Dalia and Wendy – many thanks for that! To work with you and to learn from you was a considerable enrichment for my life.

If I think about the negative aspects of volunteering in a place like Jerusalem, the only one thing that was very frustrating was the public transport. It was difficult to plan in advance my daily schedule because buses never came on time and I could never find out when the next bus would come. The distances also played a big role because sometimes my way from the school in the centre, to the university took more than one hour.  At the beginning it was very exasperating because I thought about how many things could be done at work in this hour lost on travelling. However, later I just simply learned to enjoy it because the bus routes gave me the opportunity to discover Jerusalem and see so many fascinating places.

In conclusion, I want to mention the remarkable work of Marla and Judy once again. I want to thank them how they organize volunteer placement by putting me in the right place and for their great support they gave me during and outside of work.  I am also very grateful for the pleasant time I was allowed to spend with them when sharing Shabbat, the spontaneous dinners together and for long conversation about many interesting and controversial issues. I would highly recommend the Skilled Volunteers for Israel to anyone, particularly for somebody, who wants to work in Israel as a volunteer, but does not know in which field exactly. To contact the representatives from the Skilled Volunteers would be the right decision and the right place to begin!

Julia Kushnir volunteered with Skilled Volunteers for Israel through the Volunteer & Study program at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem

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