(November 9, 2020, Tel Aviv, JNS Wire) While Israelis grapple with the effect of the latest lockdown measures and restrictions, 150 Israeli pre-army teenagers and gap year students from the US have stepped up to support vulnerable communities across Israel.
Recent surveys have shown increase in economic, emotional and health concerns among Israelis, with more than 50% of senior citizens indicating an increase in isolation and loneliness.
In a bid to ease support these populations affected by Covid-19 uncertainties, a group of teenagers from BINA: The Jewish Movement for Social Change, have joined officials from local authorities to operate temporary distribution centers of food and clothes.
For Sophie Reiss from Georgia, USA, who left her family to join a gap year, these few months have been transformative. “Before arriving in Israel, I was worried to be away from my parents for so long – for the first time ever,” Sophie said. “But very shortly after I landed, I felt part of a very special group of people from across the world, whom I’ve never met before. We all volunteered for long hours, sometimes from 10am to 10pm, collecting food, clothes, toys and books that were collected at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center and later distributing them to senior residents in the area. It was an amazing feeling!”
Others volunteered at therapeutic boarding schools, working with teenagers who were taken out of home following a court order. “My parents were a bit worried at first when I told them I was going to remain at BINA and volunteer while Covid-19 cases kept rising,” 18-year old Avia Gal-Cohen from Jerusalem said. “But I promised them I was looking after myself and now I am really glad I decided to stay. Working with these youth, who have no other place to go, is something I’m never going to forget.”
For eighteen-year-old Alona Golenser, taking part in a pre-army program during a global pandemic wasn’t strange. “Because of the great uncertainty that Covid-19 caused, I decided I’d use this year to do something meaningful instead of wasting it by staying at home,” she said.
“As a secular Israeli who only celebrated Jewish holidays or Kiddush, I knew I’d be spending the year learning more about secular Judaism and practicing it by volunteering in the community,” She added. “When we went into second lockdown and BINA staff told us we can help medical teams by looking after their children, I felt I was doing something really meaningful.”
In recent weeks, Alona has started volunteering with children at shelters for abused women and with children of asylum seekers.
While Israel is starting to ease its Covid-19 restrictions, the volunteers are still expected to continue taking part food distribution activities for the foreseen future.
“While our programs always include volunteer opportunities, the unique circumstances people across Israel are experiencing because of the pandemic has led us to join forces with local authorities to provide this much needed support,” Yuval Linden, director of BINA Gap Year programs said. “We were so proud to see our youth eager to step up and help the neediest in our society to overcome these very challenging days.”