Step back in time and experience the history of the holy land, travel to some of the Mediterranean’s greatest beaches, and experience world renowned culture that can be accurately described as breathtaking. This is Israel. Have you ever thought about combining your enthusiasm for travel with helping others in the countries you visit? Why not consider Israel as your first stop –a nation full of religious history and passion. Israel’s culture stems from the diversity of the population. Jewish people from around the globe have brought their religious and cultural traditions to Israel to create a vast melting pot of customs and beliefs.
Geography & Demographics
Israel is located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan and the West Bank to the east, and the Gaza strip to the southwest. Based on its geographical location, Israel experiences a variety of weather conditions, mainly in the winter months. The more mountainous regions experience windy, cold, and sometimes snowy climates, while coastal cities have a typical Mediterranean climate with cool, rainy winters and very hot summers.
Despite its small size, Israel is home to a variety of geographic features, including the Negev desert, Jezreel Valley, and the mountain ranges of the Galilee.
With a population of eight million people, 75 percent of the population practice the Jewish faith. Approximately 20 percent are Arabs, and the remaining five percent are recorded as “others,” some being Christians, and some are residents who do not have an ethnic or religious classification.
Food & Culture
The culture of Israel is diverse and dynamic. It combines a mix of eastern ethnic and religious traditions, along with western influence. The main cultural centers in Israel are Tel Aviv, and the capital city, Jerusalem. Tel Aviv is popular for shopping, beaches, and has a large nightlife scene. Many travel publications have dubbed it as “the capital of Mediterranean cool” for its energetic atmosphere.
Jerusalem is one the oldest cities in the world. It is labelled as the holy land, as it is home to three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Jerusalem has been sacred to Judaism for roughly 3000 years, to Christianity for around 2000 years, and to Islam for approximately 1400 years.
Israel is the only country in the world that follows the Hebrew calendar. This means all school and work holidays are determined by the Jewish holidays, and the official day of rest is Saturday, which is the Jewish Sabbath. The Sabbath is a weekly day of rest, observed from sundown on Friday until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night; it is also observed by a minority of Christians.
Israeli cuisine has adapted throughout history, and continues to adopt various elements of diverse styles of Jewish cuisine and regional Arab cuisine. It incorporates many foods that are traditionally eaten in both Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, such as, hummus, couscous, and falafel, which are deep fried balls of seasoned ground chickpeas. Falafel is considered to be a favorite street food in Israel, and many vendors throughout the cities sell falafel in a pita, on a salad, or on its own.
The two official languages in Israel are Hebrew and Arabic. Hebrew is the primary language and is spoken by the majority of the population in the country. Don’t be nervous if you aren’t fluent in either of these languages, as English is widely spoken and understood. English is taught in elementary schools, and some television programs are broadcast in English as well.
Volunteering in Israel
In Israel today, approximately 32 percent of the adult population are volunteers of one kind or another, which demonstrates that volunteerism is popular and highly regarded in the country. Several programs offer volunteers from abroad a chance to live in Israel, usually on a short term basis, and participate in a variety of different volunteer organizations.
The first step in choosing a volunteer position is to decide what type of opportunity best fits your personality, skill set, and qualifications. Volunteerism is performed in a number of ways including: developing new services, direct assistance to the needy, assistance to organizations, and activism towards social change.
Developing New Services. Most social services provided by the Israeli government were developed with volunteers in the framework. Examples of this could be: community health programs, hospitals, elderly care centers, and home assistance programs for the elderly. A prime volunteer to fill a role in this capacity would need to be a compassionate individual who may have a background in health care services, or a desire to pursue a career in this field.
Direct Assistance to the Needy. Examples would include: providing assistance to new immigrants, helping prepare and serve meals in soup kitchens, helping victims of assault, and assisting the homeless. A volunteer would need to have a desire to help with social issues, and be a comforting individual who can see the larger picture.
Assistance to Organizations. There are many types of organizations that are always looking for people to lend a hand. Examples could be various nonprofit organizations (cancer societies, hospices, or group homes) that would need assistance with providing information and guidance to the public. Volunteers with public relations or fundraising experience would be an asset in this type of role.
Activism Towards Social Change. Volunteers could be indirectly helping to change policies and behaviors.These actions could be done by proposal writing, and raising awareness within the community. Examples could potentially be: active participation in public protests to influence positive change, and participation in community committees intended to improve the quality of lives for those less fortunate. A volunteer who is passionate about positive change and comfortable speaking with many different people would be best suited for this volunteer position.
Israel is truly an amazing country with countless opportunities for international volunteers looking to make a difference in the lives of millions of local people in need of assistance. Whether you are helping care for an elderly person in need, serving meals at a local shelter, or writing press releases for an upcoming event, you are helping make the world a better place for us all.