Imagine being swarmed by 13 seven-year-olds. That was my first day of volunteering at Bet Elazraki, a program of EMUNAH of America. This past summer was unlike any that I have had before. I decided that I wanted to work at a children’s home, seeking a summer of meaning. Together with six other American counselors my age, I was a counselor to 13 of the cutest seven-year-olds you have ever seen. Being a counselor to these children established a bond far beyond just being a counselor. I was their role model; someone for these children to look up to, something that these children are lacking in their lives. Just like summer camp, my children and I watched TV, played on the computer, had dance parties, went to waterparks, and most fun of all, had bedtime parties. After being in Israel for about a week, I realized that my mission was not to find influence for myself, but to be an influence for my children.
According to data the Central Bureau of Statistics released, some 17 percent —449,00—of children in Israel registered with social services in 2012. Unlike the intrinsically flawed foster system in America, the child welfare system in Israel is based on the familiar Jewish idea of “whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” And this means that EMUNAH of America, an organization that operates five children’s homes in Israel, not only saves children at risk from physical abuse or fatality, but actually gives them a life full of happiness, joy and color.
For two of these homes, Neve Michael and Beit Elazraki, this requires a summer volunteer program for American Jews. These programs allow American volunteers to live in the homes and spend time with the children. For the children, having Americans on campus makes their summer feel different from the rest of the year; something most Ida Crown students take for granted. The children honestly look forward to the “Amercanim!” coming every year, because we are there, 100 percent, to try and make their summers fun.
The Americans on campus serve one purpose: To bring liveliness, energy, and fun into the otherwise routine summer programming. We started water fights, dance parties, paint-wars, bake-offs, capture the flag games—virtually anything to make the kids smile. Each American volunteer was assigned a kvutzvah to stay with, and we were responsible for planning their days. On a typical day, I went my girls at 9:00 am. After they ate and davened, my two co-counselors and I would do an activity with them (dance class, cupcake baking, etc.). Then they would eat lunch and have an hour of rest and chore time. In the afternoons, we would do another activity with them until their free time before dinner. Our girls ate in their kuvtazah at around 8:30 every night, and we tucked them in at 9:15. Throughout the course of these long days, we grew closer to our girls and formed relationships with them that I will never forget. The girls and I keep in touch and they know the first thing I’m doing when I get back to Israel is going to visit them. Spending my summer days with my girls was the best thing I could have done with my time. The kids in the home, as well as the other Americans on the program, are amazing and changed my life.
Every academy student should grab at this incredible opportunity to help the Jewish community in Israel. This kind of work is what we are being raised everyday in our classrooms to do. Chesed and avodah, striving in the modern world, and every other Jewish value we have ventured upon in Limudai Chodesh classes—it all works together. When you are in Israel, helping those who really need you, and making them smile, you are making everything you have learned during your time here reality.
This article first appeared in The Crown Prints, ICJA’s student newspaper.