Volunteering In Israel – A Personal Story

Our new Social Media Consultant and former intern, Elliot Cukier, was recently afforded the lucky opportunity to go to Israel with the Genesis Challenge programme. Here he tells us all about the amazing time he and the rest of his group had, and the lessons they learnt about volunteering and giving back along the way…

Genesis Challenge

I have been to Israel before, with family and on tour. But never have I experienced anything like I did when I went on the Genesis Challenge Israel Trip. The Genesis and Challenge leadership programmes, run by the JLE and Aish UK respectively, joined forces for the 2012/13 year to create a stronger programme for students. As Rabbi Sandor Milun of Genesis Challenge said, “Genesis Challenge is a cutting edge programme that provides students around the country with an opportunity to get involved in the Jewish community. It’s focus is on social action, leadership, Israel advocacy and Jewish essentials.” People from Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, Bristol, Oxford and London universities all took park in the trip, enjoying just over two weeks of sun, studying and stimulation from the various different activities that we took part in.

So now I can guess what you are thinking: how did the social media guy from the JVN get on to a university programme? The fantastic thing about Genesis Challenge is that they are open to anyone of university age. When I explained that I was of university age, but had decided to go and work for the JVN instead, they were more than happy to allow me to come to all the sessions and enjoy the benefits such as the Israel trip. And for that I am so grateful.

Now I suppose the next thing on your mind is: “great – he went to Israel. But how does this link to volunteering?” Well, let me elaborate…….

One FamilyOne day, after a very long morning studying at Yeshiva Ohr Somayach (where I can highly recommend going for a short period if studying is your thing) we were divided into two groups. Half a group went to One Family, which, since its inception, has grown into a large volunteer-based non-profit organisation providing much-needed assistance to thousands of terror victims throughout Israel on a daily basis; the other half, including myself, went to an organisation I had heard of but didn’t know anything about called Aleh.
AlehAleh is Israel’s largest network of residential facilities for children with severe physical and cognitive disabilities. They provide over 650 children in Israel with high-level medical and rehabilitative care in four residential facilities where they live 24 hours a day, 365 days a years. Going to Aleh was a really moving experience. I had heard of the major project they had been working on in the Negev but didn’t know the full extent of what they did or the reach of the organisation. This is literally a home away from home for those with severe disabilities. These people live their lives out at Aleh where they can receive the correct treatment and care that they need consistently throughout the year. The oldest resident there is in her thirties and still her parents come regularly to visit, as can any resident’s parents – the doors are open all day, every day for family.

GC 2After a tour of all floors of the amazing facility at Aleh we then held a party for the residents. One of my fellow colleagues on the trip and I ended up dancing with a resident and he seemed to really enjoy himself  just as much as we did. We were then introduced to the rest of the residents before being set our final challenge. After being divided into groups and given our green Aleh t-shirts, we were told that we were to be released onto the streets of Jerusalem and raise money for Aleh. And, in addition to the fact that most of us barely spoke any Ivrit, just to make things harder, we were warned to look out for people in red t-shirts and told nothing more.

GC 1After the bus had dropped us off in some random part of Jerusalem, we quickly assembled as a group, got some food and started to work our magic. One of our three managed to string together some Ivrit and suddenly the donations started pouring in. We thought that we were in the money, but after that one street everyone started saying no. Having decided that our best bet would be to get to Ben Yehuda Street where most of the café’s are and where we had to finish, we struggled through and eventually made it there, only to discover that all the other groups had thought the same as us.

Having pushed and shoved our way to the front and collected a few more shekels we then saw the red t-shirts. It turns out that the other group from One Family were wearing red t-shirts and were coming at us from the other direction. So after getting past them we realised there was a problem. Half of Jerusalem had already given us money, and the other half had given the One Family Group money. So however much we begged and pleaded, we got nowhere. Then someone from the One Family Group had a brainwave and, at the bottom of Ben Yehuda Street, a little concert started. With nothing but a microphone and a guitar and a tiny little speaker, the rabbis and all of us on the trip slowly but surely gathered in a massive circle and were dancing and singing along to all the tunes we knew and loved, and the donations started flying back in. And this was all in the space of a couple of hours.GC 4

It’s hard to sum up such a crazy day so I will let Rabbi Sandor do it for me. He said,  “Aleh was an eye opener for all who participated. Going there gave the students a sense of purpose and then raising money for them allowed us to be givers and not takers. We raised over two thousand shekels in ninety minutes. It was a super success!”

So what can we learn from this day? I think the one thing we can learn is that volunteering is the most amazing thing to do – giving the gift of time can do so much for a charity that money cannot buy. Volunteering for Aleh was such a unique experience as we raised so much money but at the same time were able to bring happiness to so many people. The looks on those people’s faces when we were dancing around was a very special moment.

If you wish to donate to JVN then please do so by clicking here. But if you don’t wish to give money, giving the gift of time and volunteering can also be extremely worthwhile. 

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Categories: Guest Blog, Volunteering, Volunteering Opportunities

Author:Mike

Hi, I'm Mike, JVN's Youth Co-ordinator and blogger. I'll be blogging about all sorts of issues affecting the volunteering community, with a particular focus on how recent developments might affect the UK Jewish community's volunteers. I'm always interested to read the comments you make. If you have something you want to see in the JVN blog, e-mail me at mike@jvn.org.uk and I'll be happy to talk. And if you're inspired by any of my blogs to volunteer, log on to www.jvn.org.uk and register to find your perfect volunteering opportunity.

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One Comment on “Volunteering In Israel – A Personal Story”

  1. August 7, 2013 at 11:35 am #

    Reblogged this on The Life & Interests of Cooks and commented:
    This is a blog I wrote for one of my employees, the Jewish Volunteering Network. JVN helps volunteers find suitable opportunities mainly within the Jewish Community. So when they asked me to write a blog about Volunteering, I was more than happy to write about a very special day I had on the amazing Genesis Challenge Israel Trip. Enjoy!!

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