This entry will provide you with information on volunteering in Israel.
The first thing you should know about visiting and volunteering in Israel is that there are many great programs that are designed to help get you here and make a meaningful contribution, both to the lives of those you intend to help and in your own personal development.
Paying for It
Once you’ve decided to visit Israel, there are two primary cost prohibitive factors: airfare and your program fees.
- Airfare– Unless you are already in the Middle East or southern Europe, airfare will be your greatest cost in your Israel travel
- Program Costs– Unless you travel with a paid program, in which case your program costs will be the greatest
Coming to Israel on a program is probably the best way to learn about Israel and make a contribution while you are here. The intent of a program is to help you feel comfortable during your visit. When you choose a program, you have made the decision that you are going to have a good time and let someone else worry about the details of scheduling, food, housing, and transportation during your visit. Good choice! There are many skilled, experienced professionals whose job is to do just that.
One of the best ways to come to Israel is as a volunteer. In many volunteer programs, you pay an overall program cost (which may or may not include airfare) that covers the basic expenses incurred during your whole stay.
If you volunteer in Israel for a short period (two weeks to three months), here’s what you can usually expect to be included in your program fees:
- Basic Israel and Jewish education, such as evening seminars or visits by a guest lecturer on a key topic of import
- Trips or excursions
Personal expenses such as side trips, gifts and purchases, and individual needs (hygiene products, cosmetics, medical needs, etc) will not covered.
Any reputable organization will encourage you to purchase travelers insurance and will offer you cellular phone service during your stay. The staff of the organization will also help you to consider plans for extending your trip and additional travel options. Transportation as a group to and from main locations should be included.
In short, you will not have to worry about your basic needs while you are in Israel if you come on an organized trip. Israel trip organizers know that international travel is stressful and this is particularly true for travel to the Middle East.
If you visit Israel with a program for a longer period, program fees should cover the above, as well as:
- More intensive learning about Israel and Judaism
- Hebrew lessons and regular opportunities for immersion
- Service learning (see below)
- Meeting Israelis (see below)
- Leadership training (see below)
Service learning is a primary component of most long-term Israel trips and often incorporating community volunteering is the structure the program is built upon. Service learning can include: teaching English, tutoring children with their homework, volunteering in a community center or old age home, or helping organize neighborhood activities.
Mifgashim: Meeting with Israelis
Because the purpose of long-term Israel volunteering is to help you learn about Israel from an insider’s perspective and become more invested in its welfare, many programs are now incorporating mifgashim, or formal meetings with Israelis.
The Israelis who participate in these programs have often had experience in American programs, such as working at an American Jewish summer camp or participating in an exchange program. Mifgashim are a great opportunity to talk about real issues in Israeli society and get to know people in a friendly setting. They are also a good jumping off point for future friendship.
By the way:
Mifgash comes from the Hebrew verb Lihipagesh, which means “to meet by arrangement.”
Leadership training is a common component of long-term Israel trips. Because those who are visiting and volunteering in Israel have already shown a demonstrated commitment to learning more and have expressed a strong opinion simply by showing up, they are ideal candidates for giving Israel a positive voice in their home communities and beyond.
As soon as you arrive in Israel, you will see that the Israel you encounter in real life is not the same one that you have heard about in the news or in public opinion. In fact (fortunately!) it’s much better.
Israel leadership training is intended to give you a broader and deeper understanding of Israeli history, politics, and society, as well as how to be a good speaker, run a discussion group, and debate with someone who has a different opinion than your own.
Most volunteer programs also consider their service learning component a central part of leadership training as volunteers need to organize activities and events and take on the role of a leader within a group.
Conclusion: The Imagined Israel Versus the Real Israel
It is my personal opinion that the best way to learn about Israel is to come here. The reason that Birthright Israel has been so successful is that the imagined Israel is so entirely different than the real Israel.
I sometimes have to coordinate international travel for my job and am frequently taken aback by the level of distress people display when having to plan an Israel visit. While I can understand it from an American perspective, it seems ridiculous to an Israeli. They just don’t understand what the big deal is about. And I have to say, I agree.
Come to Israel, learn about what it means to be Jewish, to be a Jew in Israel, to be an Israeli. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself.
G-D said to Abraham, “Lekh lekha,” go to it. I say to you, “Bo aleynu,” come to us.