Israel’s soldiers spend their days defending the citizens of Israel from external threats. Many also contribute hours of their time as volunteers in communities throughout Israel. We present to you three of the volunteer organizations proudly supported by the IDF (Zahal) and its soldiers.
Gesher El Hanoar (Bridge to the Youth)
Gesher El Hanoar is an organization which helps at-risk youth living without financial support from their parents. Many of the youth come to the organization from difficult socio-economic backgrounds.
IDF (Zahal) soldiers play an integral role in the organization, which is responsible for the lives of 43 young people. Soldiers join the organization every week to provide academic tutoring to the young people who receive support from the group.
Tomer Tiveria (right), director of Gesher El Hanoar, with former program participant who is now a soldier.
“Our ambition is to break the cycles that lead to these situations and integrate young people into society by providing them with the tools they need,” said Tomer Tiveria, Gesher El Hanoar’s director.
“Young people really appreciate when soldiers come to volunteer here,” Tiveria said. He added that teaching is just one part of the soldiers’ contribution. The soldiers also organize activities and mentor the young participants.
“They can speak to the young people on a personal level,” Tiveria said, “and they provide a personal example of how to succeed in the Israeli army.”
Israeli army officers tutoring students at Gesher El HaNoar.
When Gesher El Hanoar recently put out a request for volunteer math tutors, the organization received an overwhelming response from soldiers offering their help.
“Officers and senior-ranking officers also arrived here,” Tiveria recalled. “I even saw a colonel come to sit with one of our young people. We know that people of this rank are very busy and they take the time to come here. It is incredible,” he added.
The Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel
Today, there are nearly 200,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel, with an average age of 82. It is for these people that the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel (FBHVI) exists. From financial aid to legal assistance and apartment repairs, this foundation provides assistance for survivors in all areas of life.
The Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, one organization where Israeli soldiers volunteer.
Guy Oren has been responsible for the foundation’s volunteers for the past two years. He and his team find volunteers to pair up with a Holocaust survivors, who then become like grandparents for the volunteers.
“The main purpose of this volunteer partnership is to break the isolation that these survivors experience every day,” Oren said. “Although many of these survivors have families, they still go through waves of loneliness.”
Volunteers bring new energy into the lives of survivors and often help with small, everyday problems. In 2012, nearly 1,200 volunteers were paired up with survivors.
Israeli soldier from COGAT presenting Sarah, a holocaust surivor, with flowers at a special ceremony.
Oren explained that many of the organization’s volunteers are soldiers, who come in groups and as individuals to offer their help. “When the survivors see volunteers in uniform, it gives them a special sense of pride. Overall, what is most important is the presence of someone they can count on,” he said.
One unit that is actively involved with the organization is the training school at the IDF (Zahal)’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). The school has adopted two Holocaust survivors for over a year now.
“Every week, we send soldiers to visit Arieh and Sarah. In addition to spending time with them, they also help with household chores, make phone calls or simply run errands,” explained Col. Sharon Biton, commander of the training school. The school’s adopted survivors are invited to attend every special event and are given a special place of honor there.
Two Israeli soldiers with Sarah, one of the holocaust survivors for whom the COGAT Training School actively volunteers their time.
The training school’s partnership with the FBHVI was started after one of the unit’s Druze soldiers participated in an IDF (Zahal) delegation to Poland. The trip was so moving, he decided he had to do something to help Holocaust survivors living in Israel.
“I think it is first and foremost our duty as citizens,” Col. Biton said. “My soldiers receive as much as they give, if not more.” He added that some soldiers continue to visit Arieh and Sarah even after they finish their military service.
“One of the fundamental values of our unit is precisely this kind of education and volunteer program – especially in order to educate soldiers to listen to others, help them and become better citizens,” he said.
WIZO Gardening and Landscape Technology Youth Village
WIZO’s Gardening and Landscape Technology Youth Village was founded more than 90 years ago by Zionist pioneers from Russia. Originally intended only for girls, the youth village later served as a home for orphans who escaped the Holocaust. Shortly after the State of Israel was declared, the youth village opened an agricultural school – one of Israel’s first.
Gan Venof, one of the organizations where Israeli soldiers volunteer.
Today, the youth village has 400 students from throughout Israel who graduate high school with a specialization in agricultural studies. The school offers every student the option to live on campus and take advantage of the sport and technology facilities. Altogether, the campus is 63,000 square meters.
Four times a year, combat soldiers – volunteers from the IDF (Zahal)’s Nahal Brigade – arrive at the youth village to tutor the young students. Furthermore, one of the Nahal Brigade battalions offers a special preparatory program for soldiers which includes volunteer work at the youth village. This is a great experience for the soldiers who view it as a way to serve their country as much as they do in the army, simply on another front.