Programme: Destination Israel – Community Involvement
Duration: 5 months
In September 2014, I went to Israel to participate in a volunteer program under the Masa Israel organisation, Destination Israel, in the central city of Ramla. My brother had completed the same programme a couple of years ago and it took him only six months before he made Aliyah. I received the best feedback from him based on his own experiences, so I decided to apply with an open mind. It was definitely one of the best decisions I have ever made! Coming from the UK, the following five months provided me with a complete change of scenery, many different cultures and the chance to make a real difference to Ramla’s diverse community.
There are many reasons why I would recommend this programme to young adults who are looking for a meaningful way to spend half a year away from home. Community Involvement is a programme that can be tailor-made to any individual’s specific interests and skills. Each participant is given the chance to explore which corners of community life they would like to contribute towards during their time in Ramla. For example, I have experience working in education and graduated with an English-based degree, so I was given the opportunity to work at the local English centre, teaching English to children from several local schools. This was certainly one of the most fulfilling parts of my experience. The wide range of volunteer options also include working at schools, nurseries, occupational centres, animal shelters, after-school daycares, soup kitchens, radio stations and more. Ramla is an amazing city to be based in for five months, not just for its vibrant community life, but because of its geographical situation. Lying halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem makes it one of the most convenient locations in the country. It was easy to commute to practically anywhere in the country, whether it was on organised trips, to see friends or to do some sight-seeing.
One of the most valuable things I took from this programme was how it acts as a platform to brings Jews from all over the world together. The group I worked with was particularly diverse, including volunteers from ten different countries. Ramla also has one of the most diverse populations in Israel, home to one of the oldest Arab communities in Israel, which has a major influence on the city. I have never met so many people from such a variety of backgrounds, living side by side, in peace. If you walk down Ramla’s mile long shuk, one of the biggest in the country, you will find people of all different backgrounds, buying the same food, helping each other and laughing together.
Although volunteering in Ramla is the focal point of the programme, there are also many other key features which make it such a well-rounded experience. For the first month, all participants are provided with free Ulpan sessions, which is incredibly useful for the duration of one’s stay. Participants are also taken on a variety of trips during the five months. During our time, we visited Jerusalem, Haifa, the Golan Heights, Eilat, the Dead Sea and many other fantastic places. Every Sunday, the group is provided with an enrichment session, lasting for a couple hours and revolving around various thought-provoking, contemporary issues. Also, Destination Israel’s programme organisers, who have very close ties with Ramla’s community, frequently update volunteers with all the enriching activities happening in the city, including community events, festivals and tourist sites to visit. Volunteers will also have the opportunity to attend various Masa Israel events including the biannual Masa Israel volunteer concert and the Leadership Summit.
These five months were some of the most rewarding of my life so far. In such a short space of time, I saw so many fascinating places, made many good friends and formed a long lasting connection with the local community. Like my brother, I am strongly considering moving to Israel as I want to build on this incredible experience which Masa Israel and Destination Israel has provided for me.