One Day with the ZFA

June 13, 2013 by Henry Benjamin
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J-Wire recently spent a day with the Zionist Federation of Australia in Israel…checking out Australian youth working as volunteers in its Israel By Choice program.

All photos: Henry Benjamin

In the city of Ra’anana, J-wire visited the fruit and vegetable facility used to to distribute excess quantities to the needy in Israel.

Yoni Saltzman (Melbourne),Katy Brand (Melbourne), Abam Shapiro (Melbourne), Jessie Goldberg (Sydney), Dana Hamilton (Sydney), Jonah Gandur (Melbourne)

Yoni Saltzman (Melbourne),Katy Brand (Melbourne), Abam Shapiro (Melbourne), Jessie Goldberg (Sydney), Dana Hamilton (Sydney), Jonah Gandur (Melbourne)

Locally-based Deena Fiedler told J-Wire that Leket Israel had chosen Ra’anana as its main distribution centre as the city is is “in the middle of the country because we distribute food that we rescue all over Israel. Each morning Leket Israel trucks take the excess foods to some of 119 non-profit organisations we service.”

Leket does have another smaller base near Haifa which distributes food to the needy in the north.

In the vast warehouse were volunteers from Australia. Fiedler explained: “Today they are sorting vegetables but tomorrow they could be dealing with fruits. Farmers often grow a lot more than it is economically sound for them to harvest so the volunteers go out into the fields and glean the surplus. We are in touch with more than 2000 farmers all around the country. We distribute the excess to the needy.”

Leket depends on more than volunteers. They have paid pickers who are joined by commercial bonding groups, schoolchildren and members of the IDF…and even Barmitzvah groups.

The Australians were sorting vegetables, rejecting those which did not meet Leket’s standards.  The Australians, participating in the the Zionist Federation of Australia’s Israel By Choice program, then pack the food into crates ready for distribution. Leket hosts a call centre which checks with the non-profits and tells them what foods are available so that none receives foodstuffs they are not in need of. Fiedler said: “They could want apples, beets, peppers, onions…you name it. We know how many people each centre caters for so we more or less deliver the right amount of food for them.We have very little waste. For example, we know that the Ethiopian community does not eat eggplant so none goes to them.”

The Australians work at the centre four or five days a week.

Lisa Karney (Sydney), Amy Lourie (Melbourne), Gideon Kanikevich ( Sydney), Seb Dunbar (Melbourne)

Lisa Karney (Sydney), Amy Lourie (Melbourne), Gideon Kanikevich ( Sydney), Seb Dunbar (Melbourne)   

Elkana Bar-Eitan said: “The volunteers are here in Ra’anana for two months. The idea is to give them the feeling of living in Israel as Israelis and not as tourists. They live in apartments and they have to cook and clean for themselves and get to work on their own. They are independent. They work here for five hours and go back after lunchtime to work on different programs studying for example Hebrew or Jewish identity. But the morning is dedicated to teach them how important it is to give to those who need it.”

One of the participants told J-Wire: “I have been doing this for two months now and I have never done anything like this before. It’s an amazing experience. You know you are making a difference and it’s satisfying to know that a soup kitchen is functioning because of our efforts.”

Jonah Gandur said: “I have seen the kitchens at work in Jerusalem. It completed the picture.”

Close by was the Shikma Hostel, a facility for Israelis suffering from severe mental disorders.

Bar-Eitan said:”Many have lived here for several years and are very disabled. The IBC participants come here very morning four times a week and it’s amazing to see how they connect to these people many of whom are incapable of speaking any language and some of them cannot walk. The Israel By Choice volunteers take them for walks, in some cases in wheelchairs, giving them a chance to check out what’s happening outside their rooms in which for most of the year they remain confined. Our kids manage to build personal connections with them.

J-Wire asked the volunteers why they chose this particular project. Lisa Karney from Sydney told J-Wire: “I wanted to challenge myself. I had worked with kids with cancer. This is a very different experience but I have loved it.” Melbourne-based Sebastian Dunbar said: “I hadn’t worked  with the disabled before. In Jerusalem I had been working in a soup kitchen. It was very rewarding but I wanted to challenge myself more. I had never felt truly comfortable in the presence of disabled people and this has made me come to terms with it.”

Gideon Kanikevich worked with disabled people in Jerusalem. “I really loved it and I wanted to do the same thing here in Ra’anana. It’s been a new experience for me. At school we had a program helping the elderly but it was nothing like this.

Amy Lourie added: “I worked with disabled children in Jerusalem. This has added a new dimension.”

Local executive Gil Or has been working in the field for ten years. She told J-Wire: “I worked in Germany for two years. We definitely do things differently here. There is a tendency here to get more and more of the disabled to live inside the community. There is no doubt that a Jewish attitude aids the work we do. You either work with your heart or you can’t work here. When I was younger, I would take the cases hoe with me and I was sad all day. Now I have a balance and I work with my heart. I truly love them. They are my second mishpacha.”

Lauren Yarrow - Melbourne, Tamar Simai - Melbourne,Veronica Goldring - Melbourne, Zoe Diamond - Melbourne, Paul Jay Beran - Sydney, Rohan Gordon - Melbourne, Arielle Hochberg - Perth, Ryan Prince - Melbourne, Jarred Krowitz - Melbourne, Levi Lewis - Melbourne, Avishai Brown - Perth, Dion Esterman - Melbourne (Group leader)

Lauren Yarrow – Melbourne, Tamar Simai – Melbourne,Veronica Goldring – Melbourne, Zoe Diamond – Melbourne, Paul Jay Beran – Sydney, Rohan Gordon – Melbourne, Arielle Hochberg – Perth, Ryan Prince – Melbourne, Jarred Krowitz – Melbourne, Levi Lewis – Melbourne, Avishai Brown – Perth, Dion Esterman – Melbourne (Group leader)

In Jerusalem J-Wire met Dion Esterman from Melbourne is involved with the Maccabi Israel Experience, a five months’ course based on sports and leadership. He told J-Wire: “This year the kids have come mainly from Australia but the hope is that it will be a program which will embrace the entire English-speaking world. We have twelve participants this year but they come from nine different school so we have a diverse range of backgrounds…all lovers of sports and leaders in their own right. The hope is that when they go back to their communities that they will take on leadership roles in their community”

In the shelter

In the shelter

Maccabi Israel Experience participants spent a month at Israel’s National Institute of Sport at Wingate where they learned about  sports management, how to coach sport, doping in sport learning from an Israeli soccer coach what it is like to coach a national team. Esterman added: “We helped with sports for the disabled including basketball, table tennis and swimming.”

The students also spent a month on a kibbutz where they taught sports, putting into practice lessons learned on the course at Wingate. Ahead of the students is one month of hiking. Easterman said that some of the students would be competing in the Maccabiah and that this would help prepare them.

He added: “One of the students has completed two years of a TAFE course in sports management….and an American has completed a three years course.”

Student Jarrad Krowitz from Melbourne said: “I liked the sporting aspect of the program and the opportunity to see Israel. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity which has gone further than I expected. I will definitely always be involved in Maccabi.”

Zoe Diamond is also from Melbourne. “We are having so much fun and very tight as a group. I want to volunteer with Maccabi as my parents did either in coaching or administration. I am not sure of my career path but sports science looks attractive.”

Ryan Prince said the highlight of the course were the first two weeks of the course, spent in Jerusalem and Kibbutz Ketura. We bonded and made very close friendships.”

Lauren Yarrow will join her father Steve at the Maccabiah. “I will volunteer at the Maccabiah and will apply the skills I have acquired here.”

PJ Baran from Sydney said that the Maccabi program had made me understand Israel. “The Maccabi program has allowed me to easily see and understand Israel. I didn’t have a Jewish education through high school so I had a really raw connection with the country. I love the culture. I love the people. I have connected.”

Arielle Hochberg has enjoyed experiencing Israel with all the new friends she has met on the program.

The day was disrupted by a national air raid warning test. We descended into a mammoth air raid shelter at the Jewish Agency Centre hosting the course. Students from around the world. Staff. Executives. Members of the IDF. Israel. Its present and its future. Encapsulated. Twenty minutes later the all clear was sounded and the wide array of individuals dispersed into the future. In Jerusalem. In Israel. By Choice.


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