For new immigrants both young and 'young-at-heart', coming to Israel means a fresh and exciting new start. Young immigrants enter Israeli high schools and universities, while adults jump into the burgeoning Israeli workforce. For retired immigrants, making aliyah allows them the unique opportunity to do something entirely different, and special, with their time. During the last few years, more and more retired American olim are deciding to volunteer for many worthy charities and causes across Israel.
Organizations such as Meir Panim and Efrat welcome these volunteers as a valuable source of skills, energy and enthusiasm. For the volunteers themselves, not only is volunteering a meaningful way to spend their time, but it’s also a fantastic way of really coming to grips with Israeli society.
Meir Panim serves thousands of free meals a day to Israel’s needy population through its network of over thirty food and social service centers throughout the country. A large proportion of the work that is done is reliant upon its regular volunteers, many of whom are new immigrants who have recently retired. “A lot of people who retire and then make aliyah are seeking meaningful ways to spend their time,” Goldie Sternbuch, Assistant Director of Overseas Relations at Meir Panim, revealed. “Many of our volunteers, especially in our Jerusalem, Netanya and Haifa soup kitchens, are such people. They often come from affluent American Jewish communities where being exposed to such poverty, especially in a Jewish context, is rare. Volunteering in a Meir Panim soup kitchen is eye-opening and provides these olim with a valuable way of contributing to their new community. At the same time, it also makes it possible for us to be able to continuously provide and expand our services, knowing that we have the necessary manpower to do so.”
Efrat is another charity offering retired olim regular volunteering opportunities. Efrat provides financial, emotional and medical help to 4,000 women a year—women who otherwise would have chosen to terminate their pregnancies due to financial pressures. A large part of Efrat’s activities consist of distributing masses of food, baby clothes, cribs, diapers and other baby necessities to thousands of families on a constant basis. This effort takes place from within a large warehouse in Jerusalem.
Jacqueline Rawson, a retired accountant originally from Long Island, New York, regularly volunteers her time there. “Food and clothing are such basic human needs and being able to provide people with that need is hugely inspiring. Moving to Israel was a lifelong dream of mine and when I arrived I decided the best thing I could do was to contribute to my new community, so I started volunteering. The thing is, I’ve ended up receiving far more than I give."