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Connecting, Volunteering, Living

Updated: Apr 2

Having wanted to go to Israel for an extended period of time, doing so with Skilled Volunteers for Israel provided the framework for a way I could find something useful to do while there and give structure to my days.

Terry Hendin, SVFI’s Jerusalem based Volunteer Coordinator matched me with the English speaking MELABEV Memory Club, a model program of day care for seniors with Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. Club members participate for approximately 5 hours a day, from mid-morning through early afternoon. They may come one or more days a week. It is a very warm, caring, and fun place to be. Participants enjoy two meals while there, breakfast and lunch. The food was tasty and everyone seemed to like it. They also received a treat, usually a few simple tea cookies. Sometimes the treat was part of a party celebrating a birthday with cake and ice cream, or while I was there, a Chanukah party with sufganiot, Chanukah doughnuts!

After breakfast, the program started in earnest. The men in the group like to sit together and strike up both English and Hebrew songs after they’ve finished breakfast. The opening activity each morning included a review of the day and date of the year, the Hebrew date, and how many days until Chanuka, or what day of Chanuka it was. One of the programs after this was a review of the day’s news. Only the good news, as it was acknowledged that some days it is hard to find the good news in which case other topics of discussion were also chosen.

The days were full and moved right along. They always included some form of exercise and a musical program of some kind. Volunteers or program specialists brought their guitars or keyboards and sang. There was an art project one day. Word games were very popular. A snack and lunch completed the day. Many days I helped with a participant who liked to wander from the group. I would play word games with him, which he enjoyed. Other days I visited with people, or led an activity, or worked with a small group.

I loved being there. Everyone was positive and the people seemed to have a good time.

After 1:30, I had the day to myself. I took advantage of my free afternoons, visiting

The Israel Museum, Bible Lands Museum and other local places of interest. I enjoyed seeing the archeological exhibits explaining how Judaism got started, the rise of language, trade in biblical days and before and how the other lands and peoples interacted with the Jews, etc. One day I went to the Bible Land Zoo, which is delightful.

One evening, the landlady where I was staying, took me along with her friends, to a play called the “Hidden”, about Spanish Jews during the Inquisition. It is an original play and was excellent. I hope it will be available to other groups at some point. One evening another Skilled Volunteer for Israel and I went to hear Matisyahu, a Jewish American reggae and rap singer. This Hanukah concert was in Hezekiah’s Cave, a very amazing venue.

Most days I spent some time shopping for groceries. I quickly learned that if you are walking, don’t buy large quantities. I learned that Israeli yogurt is delicious, along with the olives, hummus, and produce. I bought fresh dates and fresh figs. Everything in Israel is very delicious, and fresh. I think that is because it is a small country and the time between picking and being brought to the market is very short. I had a small dorm sized refrigerator in my room, so I kept food there.

I enjoyed the challenge of learning my way around, learning how to take the buses, and just getting along where I am not fluent in the language and not familiar with the way of life. I took the buses in the wrong direction more than once. But I figured it out somehow. People were so kind and so willing to be helpful. Almost always, someone appeared who was willing to be an interpreter between the bus driver and me. Israelis are very kind and very helpful.

I especially enjoyed connecting with my cousin Sara. We had never met before. She was so kind, helpful and generous, both with her time and energy and in treating me to so much. I loved seeing my great nephew and meeting his new wife Nechama. They are the cutest newlywed couple!

One week, I took a side trip to Eilat, staying two nights. I visited the underwater observatory there, walking down below sea level with the sea surrounding you. There is a beautiful coral reef and so much to see. I also enjoyed the glass bottom boat ride, which was amazing. I stayed in a hotel where three meals a day were included. The food was good and there was a wonderful variety.

In retrospect, the only thing I might have changed would be the possibility to volunteer 3 days a week rather than 4. That would have given me more time for sightseeing. My volunteer placement was very accommodating toward me taking time off to go to Eilat, but maybe a shorter work week would have been good.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience. I had good support from Terry Hendin, the Skilled Volunteers “go-to” person in Jerusalem. I sprained my ankle my second day in Israel, because I was gawking instead of looking where I was going. Terry took me to the walk-in clinic and was very helpful accompanying me to the pharmacy to get some items I needed. By the way, the walk-in clinic was amazing. We were seen very quickly, and I think we did not spend even an hour, which included X-rays and an ace bandage.

Whatever I needed, or whatever questions I had, Terry was right there to help me. She introduced me to the welcome person at her synagogue, and to the one at the other reform synagogue. I enjoyed going to services in Eretz Israel.

Joyce Alpiner with Terry Hendin

I loved my volunteer placement and looked forward to each day. It was a nice balance between volunteering and free time. I feel that I accomplished all of my goals in Israel. I saw the sights on my bucket list, and felt needed and appreciated at my volunteer placement.

Joyce Alpiner  With Skilled Volunteers for Israel from Nov. 7-December 7, 2018

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