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Launching the 2015 Volunteers in the Negev – First Impressions

Updated: Apr 3

The 2015 Volunteers in the Negev program launched on Thursday, April 30, 2015.  Six volunteers from Miami landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel and were immediately swept off to the Negev Desert to the small community of Yerucham, Miami’s partnership city.

Lynne Elster, Howard Schneider, Alla and Zev Fayngold and Joseph and Jackie Koptowsky are the 2015 Volunteer in the Negev pioneers.  Miami and Yerucham couldn’t be more different in size, geographic region and culture, but the connections between these two communities run deep.

Our volunteers are sharing their first and ongoing impressions and experiences in this real-time blog of their Volunteer in the Negev program.  Join them in their journey through this and subsequent posts!

Howard Schneider shared:  

Today I met with 6 business owners and visited 4 businesses. Partnership between Yerucham and Miami, separated by thousands of miles and 7 time zones might at first seem unseemly.

Listening to a cabinet maker voice his concerns about upgrading his equipment mirrors conversations I had with my cabinet maker client. The owner and I were able to discuss in some specificity the benefits which the purchase of the computerized equipment would bring to his operation.

His business feeds both his family and that of his employee. We discussed the differences between materials preferred in south Florida and Israel. We also discussed the purchase of doors manufactured by others as a way to expand his product line. More later about the distillery I visited – after I sleep off the samples ….Just kidding Howard

Lynne Elster shared:

Thursday  Arrived and glad that Marla Gamoran from Skilled Volunteers for Israel was with me.   It certainly made life easier  after such a long flight.  Met others and we took a chartered bus to the hotel.   The hotel is just lovely,,,,,certainly something that the city should be very  proud of.  From the moment you see the terrific suit, good eating and wonderful staff.

Friday   Morning walking tour and activities introduced us to the lay of the land and the history behind this “town” whose history goes back thousands of years.   Debbie Golan from Atid BaMidbar helped us get adjusted. Had the most delightful experience at our host family Yoni and Hagit Wolff.    Meeting their wonderful “happy” family makes one feel at home.  Learning more about their life and again history of the city they are so proud of was perfect.

Saturday    I did not go  to temple and at that point truly felt lost until when I went into lunch myself thankfully Jackie and Joe came in and invited me on their awesome experience.   Went on a camel  ride.

Lynne, Jackie and Joe on camels!!

Saturday afternoon we met Dan and Ayelet Sapir who were both extremely positive.

On Saturday night, after dinner we met with Tuti for overview of tutoring in the schools.

Sunday    Volunteered at the  ORT Sapir school and felt that this environment really needs some help and changes – as seen through my American eyes.    In the early evening met with the most delightful young people who are with the Nativ program – a gap year program for North American young adults between their high school and college year.   We all should be proud of our youth and these students are a great example to show off!   The Native program is obviously a wonderful program that I hope will continue growing.

Monday  While having breakfast,  a lovely young lady stopped by our table and asked if we would like to share our thoughts about the hotel and the city.   She is with a local TV station and she had two camera men with her.     We explained about our program sponsored through  Greater Miami Federation.     I think it was a winner all around.    I requested that we  get some type of copy to share with our federation.

I volunteered this morning at the Meuchad Elementary School (grades 1-6) .  I think this place should be called the “mensch”  school.   Great experience from start to finish.   We truly were  appreciated for being there,,,,the students were so happy to meet us.

Just want to share that Michal Melker of Yerucham has been most helpful.   She is a total asset…..always a smile.

So far all of the group of staff personal and tried very hard to aid us in any way possible.


Jackie Koptowsky writes:

Debbie Golan showed us Yerucham from the Atid BaMidbar office and then walked us back to the hotel stopping at library to see the archives.  We also shopped in the super market and were able  to exchange us currency for shekles at the post office.

Lovely Shabbat dinner with our gracious host and their family (Dr Revital and Dr David Levi). 

Saturday, my husband Joe and I went to an orthodox temple with Debbie Golan.  Joe was honored with an aliya.  I saw a siddur that was in Russian and Hebrew.  Congregants were friendly and welcomed us.

Afterwards, Joe, Lynne and I went on an amazing camel ride.  Rosi (hotel staff) assisted us with arrangements for taxi and camel ride.

Dan and Ayilat Sapir met with us later for an hour telling us about themselves and things to expect and do in Yerucham.

After dinner we met with Tuti and Debbie.  Tuti clarified what we would be doing as volunteers in the schools.  Debbie explained the English program and pin pointed places on our maps.

Sunday, we volunteered at the ORT Sapir school which we saw was lacking discipline.  English day at the school was a good idea, but was not successful because it was very chaotic.

Later we met with the Nativ students and their counselor, David as well as Debbie Golan.   The students shared their experiences and success of one on one tutoring.


The Volunteer in the Negev participants had much to report.  They are seeing the authentic Israel – it’s wonderful warm people as well as some of the challenges faced in Israeli society and schools.  That’s the power of the volunteer experience – being part of the real Israel through learning, observation and contribution.  An “off the tour bus” experience.

The Volunteer in the Negev program is run through the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, with assistance from Skilled Volunteers for Israel and Atid BaMidbar.

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