Blank Canvas – A Volunteer Painter Builds Colorful Memories

Posted on March 8, 2013

Chip Kogan lives near Cleveland, Ohio.  A retired teacher and youth leader, Chip also knows how to do light maintenance, painting, cooking, catering….He brings a plethora of skills coupled with his “can-do” attitude.

Chip spent 6 weeks in Israel in 2012 volunteering in Tzfat with a group of Jewish young adults.  His experience only fueled his enthusiasm for volunteering in Israel .  With a referral from the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, he turned to Skilled Volunteers for Israel to help him find a volunteer setting in which he could make a difference, ready to put all of his many skills and experience to good use.

Skilled Volunteers for Israel placed Chip in a boarding school in the central core of Israel.  Chip’s daily blog includes wonderfully evocative descriptions of his daily life as a volunteer and visitor to Israel.  His flexible attitude, warm personality and openness served him well as he integrated into this community and modeled how to take full advantage of all a volunteer experience can offer.

Chip Kogan with Chaim Chip Kogan in front of Mosenson Sign Chip job well done

We share these excerpts from Chip’s blog where he starts off like a “blank canvas” and fills it with colorful memories, new friends and a sense of deep satisfaction and belonging.

March 28, 2013
One month ago, I arrived at Mosenson.  I arrived with a blank canvas.  I knew no one.  I could only communicate in English.  I had to learn the campus and discover what my duties would entail.  I am in a foreign country with none of my usual support systems in place.  I felt quite vulnerable.  

I remember weeding the orchard area on Thursday.  I was enjoying my solitude and serenity under the blue sky and warmth of the sun.  Stress had left my body.  I had my hands in the soil and I thought that I had stumbled on paradise.  On this day, I was invited by Amir, an agro (agriculture) teacher, to join 2 other agro volunteers to dinner at his home.  This was the beginning of my acceptance into life at Mosenson.  

I next remember my time with agro staff and students on the following Tuesday.  Amir, Ey ale, Javier led our project today.  We worked with about 20 students to reclaim a forgotten corner of the campus.  The land had to be cleared of weeds and trash, a pond dug, flag stones placed for a path, and nails sunk into the 2 walls for wires to be connected to the nails for trellis support.  In 5-6 hours, we worked as a team and met our goals.  Seeing immediate results and working with the staff and students was so fulfilling.

Then I began the first of my painting projects with the students.  We painted the walls in a dormitory a cheery cream color.  The students took instructions well and collectively, we finished the job before dinner.  They were satisfied and I began to receive thank you comments from the students in the dorm.

Although I did my best to speak to the students and staff in Hebrew, I was limited to good morning, how are you?, and good evening.  However, I began to notice that I was greeted in English now.  This is a clear sign of the staff’s appreciation for my volunteering and my projects were starting to brighten the campus.  

After dinner became social for me now.  I sat with the counselors or students and began getting to know them and share my American culture with them and they in turn shared theirs with me.  

And finally, I come to my last Thursday night and a thank you from Chaya, the school’s principal; Chaim, the director of the boarding school; and from the students and staff.  I was honored at dinner and given a plague in appreciation for my volunteering at Mosenson.  

When I sit down to eat in the dining hall, students come and sit by me now.  As I walk on campus, students wave and stop me to chat.  When my name is pronounced through an Israeli accent, Chip sounds more like cheep.  When i walk, I hear birds calling to me.  I hear, ‘Cheep, Cheep, how are you?”

As I said, I came to Mosenson with a clean canvas.  At 58 years old, this is a novel experience.  I can’t remember the last time, I started a new experience so green and inexperienced.  However, in one month, my canvas has become filled.  These experiences have come from living a new life far from my comforts of home.  My blank canvas is now filled many colorful memories.

March 29, 2013
It is a beautiful and warm day at Mosenson.  I have packed and am ready to walk to the front gate to meet Yael, my ride to Tzfat.  We leave in 30 minutes.

While at breakfast, a student asked me to summarize my month at Mosenson.  Great question.  Unique.  Complicated.  Rewarding.  Peaceful. Memorable.  I have said my goodbyes which were more than I had expected.  I really love the agro fraternity.  They are my bros.  I think if I had worked with them all month, it would be killing me to leave Mosenson now.  These men are such decent and fine individuals.  

On the other hand, working through the boarding school and being their painter, I have left my concrete mark on this school.  Many people have noticed my work and so many have come up to me to thank me for giving of myself for this school.  This is a wonderful feeling.  I really feel as if I have received as much as I have given.  I did my volunteering in a quiet way without expecting praise.  To me, that is what charity or tzdakah is meant to be.  The compliments are nice yet the feeling from volunteering is much more substantial.

Mosenson is located on the road, Aliyat Yona’ar.  This translate as youth aliyah.  Aliyah is the move to Israel and to become an Israeli.  My mother was a long time member of Hadassah, a woman’s zionist organization that was quite popular in the 50s and 60s.  My mother worked to raise money to bring youth to Israel.  Mosenson was part of this movement after WW ll.  Orphaned youth were brought to Israel as well as youth who came to Israel before their parents could make the transition.  How fitting or meant to be that I came to Mosenson.  I am continuing with my mother’s work and dream.  In is comforting to connect with my mother in this way.  I know that she is smiling at me now.

With a bit of a heavy heart, I say goodbye to Mosenson now.