Like many Jews, I often desired to go to Israel to nourish my Jewish roots in the land of our ancestors. So, when we enrolled our daughter in the semester-long NFTY EIE program in Israel, I seized the opportunity and, with the blessing of my family, I went there too. Of course, I wanted to do something meaningful, so I turned to my (our) all time-spiritual guru and adviser – the almighty Google. The first info I found was about a well-established program, Sar-El, which offers manual work on military bases, but soon after I discovered an alternative, a skilled volunteering program called Skilled Volunteers for Israe (SVFI).
The SVFI application process was quick and effective; I was offered two volunteer opportunities – to engage in volunteer work in two diifferent settings, both of which perfectly corresponded to my skills and aspirations. I did do the Sar-El program during the first three weeks of my stay, and then I began my volunteer placement at Melabev, a day center for adults with Alzheimer’s Disease. From the first day, I was touched by the gentle care and respect with which the Memory Club’s’s “members” are treated. T o tell the truth, I felt like a fraud: I had a very fun time, I participated in a variety of very interesting activities, without the feeling of doing any work at all. Apparently, I did some work because at the end of my assignment I was warmly thanked for my efforts by both the staff and the club members. Another token of appreciation I was afforded together with other volunteers, was a tour of the city of David which included a visit to Hezekiah’s tunnels. Fun, fun, fun!!
Shortly after beginning this first placement at Melabev, I began my second scheduled placement which took place on other days at the Oral History Department of the Institute for Contemporary Jewry at the Mt. Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This placement consisted of reading the depositions of Holocaust survivors in different languages and writing short abstracts in English. As a second generation Holocaust survivor, I don’t have to say how meaningful this work was for me. I sat and read, motionlessly, often forgetting about lunch. The university staff was ready to accommodate all of my needs, including a stay in the university’s dormitory or help in finding and contacting a Jerusalem-based author of a book I used in my recent MA thesis.
Summarizing, my engagement with Skilled Volunteers for Israel’s individual program was very effective. I felt comfortable to ask about almost anything and was helped right away by the program’s local staff. I could freely discuss my participation in both programs and adjust my level of engagement according to the needs of both institutions, as I perceived them.
Now, I am back to my “normal” life in the US (how too normal it seems after my Israeli adventure!), thinking about my experience in Israel. I feel fortunate that by using my physical, emotional and intellectual skills I was able to do something useful. I hope so.