June 7 2013 – A week of volunteer buzz!

Starting off this week’s post with a happy birthday for my dad.  He turns 81 today- June 7 and I’m glad to know that Glenn, Seth, Paul and most of their families are going to be there with him.  I will do the delayed birthday thing….. I’ve always said I’m bad at birthdays…..

 This week is full of buzz on so many levels.  
Our wonderful London volunteer Lionel returned for the second year to volunteer in Tel Aviv.  Lionel is such a genuine, interesting and colorful guy.  He’s one of those people who takes life seriously but always makes time for fun. Lionel is an avid amateur photographer.  Last year as a small part of his volunteer gig, he took photos of a conference for a Jerusalem non-profit.  This year we’ve hooked him up with an office of the Jewish Agency and he’s going to be going around to various immigrant absorption centers and taking photos for marketing and promotion.  It’s a wonderful service for the Jewish Agency and Lionel is going to see and meet people from all over the world in a variety of different settings from Tel Aviv to Kibbutz, from North American Academics to Former Soviet Union teens.  Thursday Lionel did a his first photography in tel aviv to make sure that his style and level of quality would fit with Yael’s requirements and she told us she was simply thrilled!!
There’s an exit on the main highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv called Ben Shemen.  It’s where the alternative road to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv veers off as well as where the toll road intersects with the main Jerusalem/Tel Aviv highway.  So Ben Shemen is one of those places you pass.  I’ve probably passed the Ben Shemen sign hundreds of times.  But I never ever got off the highway and went to Ben Shemen which is the largest youth village in Israel.
Now I’ll digress for a moment to talk about youth villages – to me they are a very Israeli phenomenon and one of those things that I think is so unique and interesting in Israel.  If you hearken back to the days prior to Israeli independence, youth villages (or you may think of them as boarding schools) were establish to provide homes to youth escaping from Nazi Germany.   These young refugees were cared for -the youth villages were their homes.  As the needs of the country has changed, the purposes and populations of the youth villages have also evolved.  For example, Ben Shemen, the largest youth village in the country, serves over 400 children.  For the young children (1-8 grade), the Welfare Ministry sends the children to live here for many reasons.  For children in grades 9-12, they choose to live and study at Ben Shemen for so many reasons – family problems may be one of the reasons, but some children come because of the agricultural curriculum or the music school.  In addition to the 400 children, over 70 families who are tied to the community through their work also live there.  The setting is very pastoral, very kibbutz like.  The atmosphere positive.
I also learned that Ben Shemen is one of those places that was under siege during the War of Independence and actually was isolated between December 1947 and April 1948 with food supplies running low and two army units trying to get food to the village were ambushed with many killed.  
We are looking into Ben Shemen as they may be able to use volunteers who can help students with English and they can often provide room and board. Now when I’m buzzing between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on the highway and I pass the Ben Shemen exit, I have a whole new perspective on this wonderful place.
The highlight of the week, tho, I must say was the start of our Yerucham Desert Volunteer program.  This was another one of those defining moments when you see and fee an idea become a reality and in so many ways, the reality is so much better than what you could have imagined.  Yerucham is a small development town located about 35 minutes southeast of Beer Sheba.  To say that it is isolated doesn’t really do it justice.  As you drive down down down from Jerusalem the topography changes from green rolling hills to green fields to yellow fields and then to real desert.  Bedouin encampments lay on either side of the road and camel crossing signs appear.  By the time you get to Yerucham, you are deep into the Negev Desert and it can feel desolate.  Yet Yerucham itself is a real hotspot of innovation, creativity and positive energy.  Our 5 volunteers are all exceptional people – and they are so positive, excited and motivated.  Judy Gray and I drove down on Tuesday morning just in time to join four of the volunteers for their morning excursion to the desert.  They are focusing on tourism development for the town and part of their volunteer time is seeing what Yerucham and the area has to offer.  Judy had to get back north to take care of another volunteer on wednesday but I got to spend the day and night in town, exploring, learning with the volunteers as well as getting feedback from them.  They are so excited and I came back to Jerusalem feeling on top of the world.  The Miami Federation has supported much of the cost for the volunteers for this trip as Yerucham is their Partner community and one of the Miami staffers indicated they are very interested in funding the program again next year.  This was a home run and part of Skilled Volunteers scaling up strategy by experimenting with groups.
I could actually go on forever about this week but I won’t bore you.. Suffice it to say, that I return home to Jerusalem and settle in.  The obsessive heat of earlier in the week has broken and it’s actually quite pleasant out.  I took a walk through the German Colony near my neigborhood and walked the small alleyways as well as the main streets.  I just never get tired of walking among these stone buildings and discovering new cut throughs and alleys.  
Tomorrow is Friday – you know my Friday stories as well as I.  So as your day comes and as evening comes – think about quiet settling in on the city of Jerusalem.  Imagine the families walking to visit friends and family for their evening meal.  Look around and see few cars on the road.  Smell the chicken soup coming from the windows above you.  And let that peaceful, magical, spiritual feeling of Shabbat take you with it.
Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem.
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