I have volunteered many times in Israel, but this was my first experience with Skilled Volunteers for Israel (SVFI). I would definitely recommend this friendly and personal organisation, started by Marla Gamoran from the USA. The organisation gave me access to places I could not have sourced on my own.
We were in Israel over Pesach, so I had limited time to volunteer on this trip. As we were based in Zichron Ya’akov, and I wasn’t sure if I’d have the use of a car, I needed somewhere close by. After emails, a phone interview and discussions with Marla, I was put into contact with Judy who co-ordinates the program on the ground in Israel. SVFI organised for me to work in a couple of places and Judy took me to meet the managers. One of the managers spoke very fast and used quite a lot of slang so it was invaluable to have Judy there to help me to understand.
The first placement was a school in Zichron that is like a small farm. They call it ‘The Chava’ (the farm). The Chava services schools from around the area and teaches the children about agriculture, protecting the environment and animal husbandry. Most of the children are from Elementary schools, but they also teach Special Needs Secondary students. I enjoyed the farm school where I was asked to present (in Hebrew) a Powerpoint that I had prepared before the trip on Australian animals. I ended up giving it 10 times, so I was thoroughly sick of kangaroos and koalas by the end. However, my fluency really improved and I learned lots of new Hebrew vocabulary. The children asked some great questions and one five-year-old amazed me by asking if platypuses have any additional senses that humans don’t have. Wow! I was blown away by his question. The children were fascinated by the variety of Australian wildlife from echidnas to jellyfish, cockatoos to snakes: both the benign and the deadly. The teachers helped me to understand the children’s “not always distinct pronunciation”, and also helped with explanations that were too complex for me in Hebrew. The teachers were really friendly, especially Emmy, who took me under her wing, and the Chava was a lovely place to work.
In addition to working with the children, I got to help with the animals for a short time, and fed one of the baby goats, a process that lasted all of 20 seconds.
My second placement, (because the Chava was closed for the holidays), was in Or Akiva, just inland from Caesarea. This experience, while interesting, was not as positive. There was not much to do, and I felt quite awkward, so I ended up setting myself the task of sorting out and tidying up the second-hand books. I was told that I would be helping to pack and deliver Pesach food, but that never eventuated. I spent most of the 1st day in a room where 6 people were all smoking. I kept going outside to take a breath, but it was really unpleasant. I felt very ill that night.
In the afternoon, I was taken to the model seder that had been organised. It was a bit of a balagan , but the children enjoyed it. I briefly spent some time encouraging a group of boys to put a Pesach play together, but apart from that, there was nothing much for me to do other than observe.
When speaking to the manager, Judy mentioned that the smoking was a problem for me. (I hadn’t wanted to say anything as I figured that it wasn’t for me to tell them how to behave in their own environment.) Subsequently, things were a little better. I helped to bag up vegetables from huge crates, but did not do much else.
SVFI were kind enough to email the Masorti congregation in Zichron Ya’akov about my visit. As a result, my husband and I were invited to spend Seder night with Tammy, the secretary of the shule, and her family, a lovely experience. Tammy also gave me an introduction to the head social worker of Zichron Ya’akov, who is a member of the shule. This lady then put me in contact with a Holocaust survivor couple who lived in town and whose regular activities were on hold because of the chag. As a result, I went to visit them a few times. The gentleman suffers from dementia, but his wife is very active, both mentally and physically. It was very interesting for me and it gave them someone new to talk to.
Overall, I can definitely say that my experiences were positive and that SVFI facilitated and was the catalyst for a variety of fascinating experiences and opportunities. I want to give a huge ‘todah rabah u’b’hatslacha’ to Marla, Judy and their organisation. Thank you so much. I’ll be back!