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Building Bridges

Updated: Apr 3

Skilled Volunteers for Israel arranged for two placements for me during my stay, Israel Elwyn and the Fair Tourism Project of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations.   I enjoyed both settings and was glad to have a chance to be involved with two such diverse organisations.

Israel Elwyn provides a wide range of services for people with intellectual disabilities.   These include what in Canada would be called sheltered workshops.   I had the wonderful opportunity to spend two days a week in one of these workshops, which involved both working in a garden and the assembly of electrical components.   The participants had a range of challenges but all seemed to try hard to master tasks and share in a range of groups efforts.

It had been over 30 years since I worked with people with similar challenges and I had been afraid that I had developed barriers and attitudes that would prohibit me from being a positive presence.   That proved to be a meaningless fear.   Not being a teacher this time I think helped.   My task was to be a caring presence, not a therapist or instructor.   I was not responsible for anything more than showing those in the programme that they matter enough for someone to share time with them.

I have phenomenal respect for those who devote a great deal of time for the overlooked among us.   Those at Israel Elwyn, staff and regular volunteers, care for many truly vulnerable people and do so with compassion.

The Fair Tourism Project of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations was a completely different experience.   The work centered around getting confirmation from groups in Israel/Palestine to participate in an on-line catalogue of options for those organizing tours, pilgrimages and other visits to Israel could consider, options that would encourage engaging in dialogue with a wide range of voices in this challenging land.   It was primarily done via email and the internet, but there was some phone conversations and even Skype based communications.

Helping in some small way to build bridges between communities and add to the opportunity for those from other countries to have a more accurate understanding of the many realities in Israel was very meaningful for me.

I wish had more time with both groups.   Three weeks isn’t a lot of time. But I am leaving with a sense of accomplishment and the hope that I made some difference in the lives of those at Israel Elwyn and some small contribution to the eventual success of the fair tourism project.

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