Seeing Israel as a volunteer

Posted on January 4, 2017

At breakfast in Machane Yehuda about a year ago, my long-time friend, Terry Hendin, told me about Skilled Volunteers for Israel. I had been visiting Israel almost every year for over 15 years and decided that my next trip might be a better experience if I came as a volunteer. Fast forward to today; I’m now working with some amazing people a few times a week rather than looking for ways to spend my time between coffee breaks and lunches with my Israeli friends.

jerusalem-from-city-towerAlthough I’ll share a more complete description of my time here once I’ve had a chance to reflect on the entire trip, this seems like a good time to report my experience while it’s in process and as I look out at a magnificent Jerusalem sky from the 19th floor of the City Tower in downtown Jerusalem. [Include picture if possible]

What has made this trip different?

  • People I’ve Met: I’ve had a chance to meet people as residents of Israel, where they work and live. I’ve met teachers and students; I’ve met tour guides and seminar instructors; I’ve met finance staff and directors and public relations teams; I’ve met Catholic priests and Coptic nuns and rabbis. And I’ve been in the presence of imams and members of Knesset, and leaders of wonderful and important peace-seeking organizations.
  • Places I’ve Been: I’ve been in the halls of the Knesset and the halls of a secular Yeshiva. I’ve had three tours of the Christian Quarter of the Old City – all led in Hebrew and each of them providing different information. In the Old City I’ve visited the Lutheran Church, Christ Church, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; outside the walls, I’ve been to Notre Dame. I had the opportunity to attend midnight mass at St. Andrews in English (a Scottish church) and Christmas Mass at Saints Simeon and Anne Church in Hebrew in downtown Jerusalem. And I’ve attended Shabbat morning services at Har El, a synagogue that is part of the Reform movement in Israel.

I’ve also been to Terem, an emergency clinic. Unfortunately, I took a nasty spill on Wednesday evening on my way to pick up a few things for dinner. Immediately there were people around me asking if I was ok and offering to help me. I thought I was but, the next morning when I saw that my injured knee was about 25% bigger than my other knee, I asked a friend to take me to Terem. While not something I recommend as something to add to your itinerary, this gave me an opportunity to see a side of Israel that I hadn’t seen before. It also added many words to my active Hebrew vocabulary.

  • Miscellaneous Experiences:
  • Participating in staff meetings – in Hebrew.
  • Shopping in Ikea in Rishon LeTsion and eating in the kosher Swedish cafeteria
  • Listening to the general chaos in a high school teachers’ room
  • Hearing the silence as the secular new year happened
  • Packing lunches for work days

Although this visit isn’t over and I’m looking forward to more interesting and exciting events and opportunities, I’ve pretty much decided that being a “regular” tourist in Israel is no longer in the cards for me. I am already looking forward to my next opportunity to be a Skilled Volunteer.

Barbara S, Chicago