By Marla N Gamoran
When the Telephone rings….
The telephone rings and a voice on the other end asks about volunteering in Israel. “But before we start,” she says hesitantly, “I have to tell you how old I am.”
“How old are you?” I ask, “It’s important, because our program is really set up for mature, adult Jewish professionals. Most of our volunteers are in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.”
I can feel the rush of relief coming through the telephone and see the smile at the other end of the phone.
“Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you.” That’s the typical response from Jewish baby boomers and older adults as they learn that our program, Skilled Volunteers for Israel, is an answer to their search. They have discovered an Israel program that is not out of reach because of their age.
Skilled Volunteers for Israel – skillvolunteerisrael.org – was founded specifically to address this gap in Israel programs. The vast majority of the volunteer programs in Israel for Jews from abroad are limited to age 30 years old, leaving a gaping hole in opportunity for those more mature Jews seeking to make a contribution in Israel as a volunteer.
Skilled volunteering enables Jewish boomers to put their skills, wisdom, life experiences, expertise and passions to work for an Israeli nonprofit or educational organization. The advantage that mature volunteers bring to Israel is significant.
Our volunteers augment organizational capacity when deployed strategically. A marketing executive and professor recently worked with a Tel Aviv nonprofit’s leadership team to formulate communication and outreach strategies to reach target audiences in Israel and abroad. A museum curator specializing in Asian art volunteered at a municipal museum to research and catalogue a collection of Japanese woodblock prints that could not be exhibited without the documentation she provided.
Older volunteers can expand an organization’s circle of influence through their extensive personal and professional networks. A 2012 volunteer with Women of the Wall has been speaking to groups in South Florida for the past two years – reaching hundreds with her personal story of the impact and importance of that organization and the role it plays in advocating for religious pluralism in Israel.
The Skilled Volunteers for Israel model approaches volunteer placements much the way that businesses engage a consultant. Upfront investment in understanding the volunteer’s expectations, potential contributions, and prior experience are utilized in matching that volunteer with a specific need within an Israeli organization. The Israeli nonprofit leaders recognize the value of the matching and screening process, enabling them to better absorb the volunteer and maximize the benefit of the volunteer’s contribution.
Just under 60% of the American Jewish population is over the age of 45. The Boomer generation is living longer, and researchers characterize the Boomers as healthier, wealthier, more mobile and more highly educated than any preceding generation.
As Professor David Elcott writes in his 2010 study, “Baby Boomers, Public Service and Minority Communities – a Case Study of the Jewish Community in the United States:
We are at a critical juncture as volunteerism and the desire for hands-on involvement with causes approach record levels. If we seek to attract, mobilize and retain the talents of Jews, we need to provide opportunities for them to perform public service with integrity, meaning, satisfaction and authenticity. This is especially true for Boomers who are exploring what to do over the next decades as they consider how long to continue their mid-life careers and what to do with their talents, ideals and experience.
Boomers are redefining the years traditionally labeled “retirement” with renewed focus on personal enrichment, adventure and most importantly, the opportunity to give back as the Boomers consider the legacy they wish to leave behind.
Volunteering in Israel as a way of leaving a legacy has multiple ripple effects. Volunteers get a unique perspective on Israel by living and working with Israelis as well as developing personal and professional relationships. The experience of volunteering opens windows into the nuances, realities and complexities of Israeli society, which are difficult to experience as a tourist. A 2014 summer volunteer wanted to immerse herself in a Hebrew-speaking environment. She never expected that during the first week of her placement she would be shepherding autistic elementary school students into a school bomb shelter as part of a training drill.
Skilled Volunteers for Israel facilitates an authentic contribution through the individualized volunteer assignment. Beyond the work and experience itself is the Boomers’ opportunity to model Yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh – our collective responsibility and connection to the Jewish people. One of our volunteers shared that she was motivated to volunteer in Israel to demonstrate to her grandchildren the importance of doing for Israel – in addition to writing a check to make her annual financial contribution. By volunteering, Jewish Boomers, grandparents and parents of next gen Jews, can inform the younger generations on the grassroots work for social justice going on in Israel as well as influence them on the relevance and importance of involvement in the Jewish community.
With almost unlimited choices in how Boomers can invest their time, skills, and energies, volunteering in Israel makes a strong statement. The secular community in the USA provides ample opportunity to engage the talents of the Boomers through such organizations as ReServe, RSVP, and Senior Corp. As the Jewish boomers choose how to be engaged, the options in the Jewish community and Israel must be as compelling as those in their secular communities.
When the telephone rings, and it is someone of a mature age who wants to make a difference with a “hands on” in Israel experience let’s make sure we have quality opportunities like Skilled Volunteers for Israel to embrace that request – for Am Yisroel, and for us all..
For more information or to volunteer, please visit skillvolunteerisrael.org
Registration for our December 2014 group voluntourism program – Jerusalem Volunteer Encounter is open.
Marla N Gamoran is the Founder and Executive Director for Skilled Volunteers for Israel.