I recently returned from volunteering in Israel for 5 weeks with my daughter Molly. This has been my third winter spent volunteering in Israel; however, the first with a travel buddy. Molly had graduated from college in December and had time to travel before she started graduate school in the summer. She had heard me speak enthusiastically of my earlier trips to Israel so she wanted to experience this first hand.
We split our volunteer time between two venues: Nitzana in the Negev and Mosenzon, a boarding school located in Hod Hasharon which is about 30 minutes from Tel Aviv. I had never volunteered in the Negev and I wanted to try something new. Nitzana is an Educational Nature and Recycling Center an hour south of Be’er Sheva and close to the Egyptian border. Daily, students arrive on buses as part of their school’s field trip program. They learn about recycling, green energy sources, and experience night hikes.
Desert life is filled with raw beauty and pleasant silence. Stray cats and dogs roam the vast Nitzana landscape in harmony. This caught our attention immediately. However, This contentment resonates with the counselors and staff and volunteers who work together here too. Molly and I were immediately welcomed and the transition to volunteering and living in Nitzana happened quickly. Our assignment was to finish the exterior mosaic on a building that housed classrooms. We arrived in Nitzana late afternoon on a Monday and on Tuesday we had our mosaic instructions that guided us to its completion three weeks later.
From Nitzana, we traveled to Hod Hasharon by bus and train. Within four hours we were walking onto the campus of the youth village at Mosenzon and Alexander Muss schools. The setting is the Garden of Eden. The campus is filled with large imposing palm trees and a vast assortment of flowering trees and plants. By the beginning of March, spring had arrived which is a welcoming sight for those living in midwest America! Whereas we lived in a modern two bedroom apartment in Nitzana, here we lived in a comfortable dorm room. In both locations, three meals a day are provided but at Mosenzon, our laundry was done for us too!
Although we did some small projects in Mosenzon’s agriculture department, primarily our projects were paint and repair related. We scraped and painted numerous railings, a large outside stair case, and repaired and painted several water damaged ceilings in an apartment. One of the first forms that I completed with Skilled Volunteers is to list my talents and the work that I would prefer to do. Therefore, our assignments in both locations complemented our talents.
Sharing this Israel adventure with Molly has been outstanding! I am grateful to Marla and Skilled Volunteers for helping to make this trip happen. I am grateful that Molly wanted to travel with her Dad. I am grateful for the experience of working with Molly on a project and sharing in the joy of seeing it to its completion. Yet, I am most grateful to her for being my travel buddy. On the weekends we traveled to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Akko, Be’er Sheva and several moshavs near Nitzana. We soaked up the Israeli culture, experienced Purim in Israel while still holding onto our family ties and not becoming homesick after weeks into our adventure.
Volunteering offers a unique experience for those who want to shake up one’s status quo. Being retired, I have the opportunity to travel when I want. This experience has allowed me to unselfishly help others and have a positive effect in a community. I chose to volunteer in Israel because this is my homeland too. For a hot second, I arrived as a stranger but quickly I found that I was with family and friends. Almost immediately, Israelis asked me what am I doing here and why am I here? It is an oddity for someone my age to be retired and the idea of volunteering for no personal gain draws attention. Consequently, this works to a volunteer’s advantage.
Show up and work. It is as simple as that. Giving a honest day’s work is noticed. Offering to help without complaining or trying to change the project from its intent is appreciated. A positive and friendly demeanor leads to early acceptance and bonding. I have found that this is the simple recipe for building lasting relationships which I have made and kept during my past three trips to Israel.
Our first project was the mosaic wall. We took donated ceramic floor tiles, broke them into smaller pieces, and cemented them to the building’s wall in artistic patterns. Tikun Olam is the idea of restoring the broken pieces of people and the world into its whole. Symbolically, this project did just that for Molly and me. The completion of the mosaic wall will have a lasting imprint in their community. We contributed our time and energy to something bigger than ourselves and we felt fulfilled. This is a lasting satisfaction that often eludes me in the States.
Skilled Volunteers For Israel is a very professional organization. Marla and her team do a wonderful job of matching the volunteer’s skills with exciting venues and people. Moreover, they insure the volunteer’s successful experience through continued personal as well as phone contacts while you are volunteering in Israel. I am most grateful to this organization for offering rewarding volunteering experiences for “baby boomers” and at the same time, creating an invaluable experience with my daughter Molly!
Take care, Marla
Chip Kogan, Cleveland Ohio