Leo Baeck 1


Oct 2013 Journal

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‘Baby boomer’ volunteers for Israel

Under the slogan ‘Export your Expertise’, Marla Gamoran has established ‘Skilled Volunteers for Israel’, a nonprofit organisation aimed at bringing professionals from the US and the UK to volunteer in their area of expertise for a limited time in Israel. The organisation was set up in 2010, when Marla found there was no specific outlet for people born between 1946 and 1964 - ‘baby boomers’ who are now nearing retirement age. In many cases, these individuals feel that as well as still being able to make a contribution to society, they would also like to do something for Israel. The organisation seeks to match volunteers with appropriate projects in Israel’s nonprofit sector, where their skills can be used in tackling issues affecting society at large.

Using contacts, the internet, rabbis and any medium she could find, Marla set about making connections with various Jewish organisations and groups, initially in New York, but later in other parts of the US. At a later stage she extended her range to the UK, Europe and anywhere where Jews of the right age and with appropriate skills were to be found. With little professional help, she has produced a brochure illustrating and delineating the work of the organization. The official website, http://skillvolunteerisrael.org, gives a long list of the various fields in which volunteers can use their skills.

In the event, no major Jewish organisation was prepared to back the project, but that did not deter the energetic Marla and she continued to concentrate on what she calls ‘building relationships of mutual benefit’. Fortunately, Marla was able to obtain seed money from an individual donor, thereby enabling her to set up an office with a secretary in Israel. In the US she does all the work herself. She found that it was possible to undertake marketing by making use of social networks, emissaries and other suitable channels.

The opportunities for volunteering in Israel are many and various and include working in archives, education, business consultancy, grant writing, marketing, scientific and other research, medical aid and many others. Thus, volunteers have helped to tutor Israeli schoolchildren in English, engaged with immigrant and low-income communities, translated material, contributed to websites and developed school curricula, to name but a few of the projects Marla’s association has sponsored.

To date, about 25 volunteers have been placed in a wide range of projects, organisations and institutions in Israel and for varying lengths of time, usually of at least one month. Future plans include bringing such volunteers to Israel in the framework of a group rather than as isolated individuals. The financing of each volunteer’s trip is undertaken by the individual him- or herself, but the connections in Israel and social support network are provided by Marla and her team.

Thus, this enterprising and enthusiastic young woman has created an entirely new field that enables retired professionals to volunteer and support Israel, providing a rewarding and satisfying experience for all concerned.

Dorothe Shefer-Vanson

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