To Be or Not To Be a Volunteer?

by Vika Elkin

I am tired of being told that Russian-speaking Israelis do not volunteer, that the phenomenon of volunteering is strange to them.

So what can be done to persuade someone to sign up as a volunteer?

Some say it is a question of free time. Others say that volunteers don’t know what to do with their life and therefore volunteer instead of spending time together with their families.

I want to suggest another aspect of volunteering. As an example, I will take the Limmud FSU project for which I am managing and which has been built up from A to Z solely by volunteers over the last five years.

First of all – what is Limmud? It is an international informal educational movement which began in the United Kingdom 33 years ago and has now spread to 60 countries in many languages.

Limmud FSU (Former Soviet Union) for Russian-speakers, founded six years ago, is a wonderful and exciting festival, a special happening takes place annually in Israel. It lasts for just 48 hours. During this time the participants dive head-first into a sea of Jewish and Israeli culture, every hour being able to choose for herself or himself a session and a presenter from among dozens, without anyone telling them where they should go or what they should listen to.

The project is based on several important and basic principles, such as pluralism of opinions, religious beliefs or none, views and approaches, it is non-political and with complete freedom of choice.

The Limmud FSU program is built up by volunteers from the Israeli Russian-speaking community and is directed toward the community. The Organizing Committee consists of some 25-30 young people who construct the framework of the festival and its program. At the festival itself, a team of 60 volunteers does all the essential administrative work: signing-up participants, speaking to presenters, working with caterers, setting up the programs, including a special children’s program, organizing rooms, and much more. In this year’s Jerusalem Art Limmud festival, there will be 220 presenters each with interesting lectures, creative workshops, wine tastings, dance, yoga and music, with some 800 mostly young participants.

And this cycle repeats itself every year! Over the last five years, more than 1,500 people have volunteered to work at the festivals!

All these people chose to volunteer because it is interesting; because through it they make new friends, experience new ideas and directions and make professional contacts. But for many of the volunteers (actually most of them), being a Limmud volunteer also implies participating in the greater cause of Tikun Olam, (the universal Jewish aim of “Improving the World).”

And no one chooses to be a volunteer because they have too much free time on their hands!

This year the Limmud FSU festival is taking place in Jerusalem on November 14-16. Would you like to join us?

If so, then follow us on Facebook.

Vika Elkin has an MA in management of government and nonprofit organizations from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is Director of Limmud FSU in Israel, a volunteer on the board of the Community Center of East Talpiot and New Arnona and one of the founders of Keshet Talpaz, an organization for secular and religious Jews in her neighborhood.