I arrived in Israel
about six months ago along with 320 young adults from all over the world for about a year, as part of the annual course of Young Judea Israel
– the Zionist youth movement of Hadassah, and in cooperation with the Jewish Agency's MASA project.
As part of the course, we study Judaism, Zionism and Hebrew and volunteer in educational institutions, social associations and disadvantaged communities across the country.
When I began volunteering in Jerusalem at the kindergarten of Eliya
(the Israeli Association for the Advancement of Blind and Visually Impaired Children), I had high expectations, which were exceeded by the real experience.
The Eliya kindergarten, which is located at the Variety Center in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood, brings together blind and visually impaired children with kids who have no disabilities.
From my very first day at the kindergarten, I was fully welcomed as a staff member. Together with three teachers and one chief kindergartner, I worked in a combined classroom of 13 small children, all aged two to four. The classroom was comprised of two blind girls and three visually impaired students, while the rest of the children had no vision problems.
In addition to the classroom's diverse nature, a number of children were religious Jews, others were secular Jews and one child was Muslim.
Sam Forman and his new little friends (Photo: Osi Halperin)
Every morning when I entered the classroom, the children were excited to see me and I started the day playing with them. Certain activities were simple childhood games, but the more time I spent at Eliya I learned that even elementary missions help visually impaired children function in the real world.
For example, in order to train blind children to read Braille, basic actions like placing pegs on a board with holes, or sorting coins into a slit of a charity box, help them develop crucial skills for a later period in their lives.
The climax of the week is on Sunday afternoons, when the children are taken to the Ramot neighborhood in northern Jerusalem to ride horses. When I joined the activity, I saw the children waiting impatiently for their turn to ride the ponies and not wanting to leave when it was time to return to the kindergarten.
Another memory engraved in my mind is the Shabbat welcoming ceremony on Friday. Although I did not volunteer on Fridays, I arrived that day with my father, who was visiting from the United States, in order to experience the "Kabbalat Shabbat" at the kindergarten.
When my father and I entered the classroom, two children were sitting at the front alongside the teacher: The father of mother of Shabbat. The "mother of Shabbat" helped light the candles, and the teacher explained the weekly Torah portion to all the children. The "father of Shabbat" said the Kiddush blessing and the children ate challah bread and drank grape juice.
My father and I were overwhelmed by the small children's level of knowledge and by the Shabbat welcoming ceremony they conducted.
At the Eliya kindergarten I experienced supreme bliss and satisfaction. I thank the staff which welcomed me and the opportunity given to me by the annual course of the Young Judea movement to volunteer in such a fascinating place. I learned a lot and my Hebrew improved significantly through my conversations with the children.
I know that I'll return to the kindergarten every time I visit Jerusalem again. This volunteering has been the height of my year in Israel so far. Naturally, I haven't stopped volunteering: These days I am moving to Bat Yam for the second part of the course, and I'll likely encounter new and intriguing challenges here as well.
When you arrive in Israel with the Young Judea course for a year, and experience studies and an opportunity to integrate into the community as well, the value is huge.
During this period, we were also given the opportunity to deepen our knowledge of the country and the people living in it. It's a totally different experience, which is much stronger than the experience of a short and personal visit to the country.
Sam Foreman is only one of 320 young adults who arrived in Israel all the way from the United States and England, in a bid to get to know the Israeli society a bit better and volunteer in places in need of good deeds.
You can do it too, and you won’t even need a plane ticket. The fifth annual Good Deeds Day will be held on April 5. Some 70,000 people volunteered last year, and this year more than 100,000 are expected to volunteer.
This is your chance to gather the people you love around you – your friends, co-workers, the guys from the army – and volunteer together, as a group, through the Ruach Tova
To volunteer as an individual - click here
To volunteer as a group - click here