Debbie wanted to do some volunteer work in Israel this summer, but no one volunteered to help the college student from New York.
“I was sending e-mails, sending faxes and making phone calls to different organizations and places in Israel and the U.S. on a daily basis for about a month,” she says. “I was unable to find a suitable place to volunteer.”
Then, in Israel, she heard about Beit New York-Jerusalem. She walked into its office at the foot of Jaffa Road, a crossroads near the Old City walls, and was steered to Mercaz Schusterman, a home for abused children.
Debbie spent five productive weeks at Mercaz Schusterman.
“Debbie is a real success story,” says Cindy Breakstone, Beit New York-Jerusalem director.
The center was established in 1998, with funds by UJA-Federation, the Jewish Agency and the municipality of Jerusalem as part of the Partnership 2000 union between the Jewish communities in Israel and the diaspora.
Designed as a home away from home for visitors from the greater New York area, Beit New York offers a place to stop in for a cup of coffee, arrange Shabbat hospitality and meetings with Jerusalem residents, find long-term and short-term volunteer assignments, and receive a helping hand with a variety of tourist problems.
“Our goal is to have people really create connections between the communities,” Breakstone says. People from various ethnic and religious backgrounds are often set up with each other. “Part of our message is to let Jerusalemites know there are different streams of Judaism.”
Beit New York, which is open Sunday to Thursday, is the first such service center in Israel geared for visitors from a specific community in the United States. Other Jewish communities have expressed interest in establishing similar programs, she says.
The 3,500 New Yorkers welcomed by Beit New York have volunteered in hospitals and for programs for the disabled, workshops for the elderly, city beautification projects and battered women’s shelters. They have done joint art projects with Israelis and served as English teachers.
“Every group that we’ve ever had has come back to us for another project,” Breakstone says.
The center advertises through travel agents and Jerusalem learning institutes, brochures in hotels and ads in The Jerusalem Post. (Its volunteer coordinator here is the Volunteer Alliance of the Sol Goldman Y, 212 780-0800.)
Debbie dropped by the Beit New York office daily while in Israel. “This has forged a real connection for her for the rest of her life,” Breakstone says.
“The experience gave me greater insight into Israeli culture,” says Debbie, who is back in New York. “On the last day of volunteering I bought little presents for the kids. So the housemother gathered all the children to wish me goodbye and a safe trip.
“When the kids said goodbye and todah rabah [thank you very much],” she says, “I realized that it was appreciated that I came to them for this month.”
Contact Beit New York-Jerusalem at 011-972-2-624-3451/4681 or by e-mail at cindyb@ jazo.org.il.