If you’re planning a visit to Israel and want to witness or participate in hands-on social action, the choices are plentiful. In addition, donations are always welcome.
“Tourists more and more are looking to experience Israel and not just see it,” says Alisa Bodner of LOTEM-Making Nature Accessible, a Jewish National Fund partner organization. “Outings that highlight values that are expressed in Israeli society and that include encounters with the people of Israel are the experiences that are most meaningful. This is what tourists will keep with them long after their trip is over.”
The suggestions for social tourism offered here include a mix of tours and volunteer opportunities. For more information about ecotourism and “voluntourism” in Israel, visit www.israel21c.org/voluntouring-in-israel or websites such as www.ruachtova.org.il-en, www.skillvolunteerisrael.org, www.destinationisrael.com and www.goeco.org.
• Commune with accessible nature
LOTEM offers visitors a look at inclusion in Israel through guided hikes in Nahal HaShofet Nature Park, Israel’s first fully accessible circular hiking trail. The forest walks — led by LOTEM volunteers with special needs or soldier-guides — go through streams, an accessible cave and wooded areas, ending at LOTEM’s ecological farm in Emek HaShalom. Activities there include making grape juice in the only wheelchair-accessible wine press in the world and baking pita bread with handpicked herbs from the sensory garden. Information: email@example.com or (347) 236-3262 (U.S.)
• Assist the elderly
Melabev day clubs for seniors with memory loss welcome volunteers able to commit to three to five mornings over two weeks. Tasks include assisting in discussion groups, art, music, dance, movement, cooking and baking. Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh locations cater to English-speaking clients. Information: (972) 52-720-3039 (Israel)
• Serve the hungry
Several soup kitchens throughout Israel welcome foreign volunteers to plate and serve. To arrange a morning at one of 30 Meir Panim locations throughout the country, call (877) 736-6283 (U.S.) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Carmei Ha’Ir soup kitchen near Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda marketplace operates like a restaurant where clients pay whatever they can. Volunteers must be at least 18 unless they’re part of a family. The site welcomes up to six volunteers per shift. Information: (972) 2-500-4222 (Israel) or email@example.com
• Disability awareness
ALEH residences in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Gedera and the Negev together care for some 650 Israeli children and young adults with severe disabilities. Groups from abroad may book an orientation session and then spend an hour to 90 minutes assisting staff in the classroom with activities such as music, art, therapy or games. Participants must be at least 18 years old. Information: firstname.lastname@example.org
In Jerusalem, weekly tours of the headquarters of Shalva demonstrate how this 25-year-old center has become a leader in the field of disability awareness and intervention in the Middle East. Founded by Kalman and Malki Samuels after their son Yossi became deaf and blind, Shalva (“peace of mind”) provides daily therapeutic programs for more than 500 participants with special needs, from birth to adulthood. On the tour, for two to 50 participants, visitors can meet Yossi Samuels and see innovative approaches that emphasize social interaction and integration, including the Shalva Band. Information: email@example.com
• Pack for the poor
Colel Chabad, Israel’s oldest charitable organization, runs a program called Pantry Packers, a 90-minute opportunity for overseas tourists ages 4 to 80 to pack food staples in large baskets for needy families throughout Israel. At the Pantry Packers facility in Jerusalem, tourists are given a brief orientation session before donning gloves, aprons and caps to fill bags bearing a sticker with the name of the packing group. Information: firstname.lastname@example.org or (972) 2-626-0035 (Israel)
• Hike and help
Livnot U’Lehibanot (Hebrew for “To Build and Be Built”) provides two- to six-week hiking and community volunteering programs for young Jewish adults, ages 21-30, in Tsfat. Opportunities include renovating apartments, creating green spaces, or working in food and clothing banks at an absorption center for immigrants, a senior living center or a child development center. Information: (561) 409-3923 (U.S.) or (972) 4-697-0311 (Israel)
• Tour a youth village
Yemin Orde Youth Village welcomes hundreds of visitors each year to join the staff and children from 20 different countries for lunch and a tour of the sprawling campus in the Carmel Forest region. Founded in 1953, the village houses and educates about 400 children from throughout the world who have all suffered from neglect, abandonment or extreme poverty. Yemin Orde has inspired projects from Rwanda’s Agahozo Shalom Youth Village to Philadelphia’s Arise Academy. Information: (202) 237-0286 (U.S.) or email@example.com
• Fill food baskets for terror victims
Every Thursday morning starting at 9:15 at 3 Yakim St. in Jerusalem, anyone can come and help pack produce and bread to go into weekly food baskets for Israelis who have experienced a terror attack. Leora Tedgi, herself a terror victim, founded Ohr Meir and Bracha: The Terror Victims Support Center in 2002 and is always there to tell visitors her story and show an informational video about the organization’s services. Information: www.terror-victims.org.il