If the King James Version of the bible crafted your preconceived notions of Israel, then thou shalt needeth a new perspective. Volunteer opportunities in Israel never fail to challenge ideas and offer the most unexpected experiences. With almost one third of all Israelis being active volunteers, voluntarism is the steady constant that proclaims the beautiful side of Israeli society. It seems that the country has taken to heart the question posed by a Jewish sage long ago: "If I look out for myself only, what kind of a person am I?" Make this year’s memories as a volunteer in Israel and next year’s #TBT’s your program highlights.
The mingling of old and new that transpires in Israel will have you in a perpetual time warp. Stepping into another city, or just crossing the street, can transport you to an entirely different era. To help you decipher the best fit for your volunteer experience, have a looksee at this rundown of the most popular locations to volunteer abroad in Israel:
Jerusalem serves many believers as the finish line to a pilgrimage, but no matter what your dogmas, when you volunteer in Jerusalem, your experience may just be the pilgrimage itself. Some of the world’s oldest history is alive and on display in, wait for it… the Old City. Also, be sure to take a stroll through a souk and be exhilarated by the sensory overload experience you have to see (and smell) to believe.
Tel Aviv is Israel’s modern, cosmopolitan city where you might find more people wearing skinny jeans than thawbs. A sun-bronzed strip of coastline serves as an international mecca for foodies and coffee snobs where life is lived to the fullest. Volunteers will never be caught bored with a profusion of contemporary galleries, cafes, and blissful beaches to be explored. The historic part of the city, Jaffa (Yafo), is famous for being the backdrop of many biblical stories, but the city's real attraction is the local lifestyle.
Eilat is located at the southernmost tip of Israel and is an unashamed resort town. Its beaches are noted for their pristine waters that fashion dream conditions for snorkeling and diving. Dolphin Reef, Coral Beach Nature Reserve, and Coral World Underwater Observatory Marine Park offer all the fun in the sun you can handle on your days off. If traveling to the Middle East to volunteer makes you a little uneasy, Eilat will be there to hold your hand and keep you safe through it all. What better place to get your feet wet than in the Red Sea (insert Moses impression here).
Volunteer Programs in Israel
With more options than aromas in a spice market, there are a variety of volunteer programs in Israel to choose from. Here are a few of the most popular picks to help ease the burden of choice:
Israel supports a modernized medical industry that is nearly equivalent to those in the U.S. and Europe and harbors some of the finest medical institutions in the region. If a MCAT study guide is staring you down, consider volunteering with some of the health care programs in Israel. Work with nurses and therapists in residential homes for the elderly and children with disabilities and nurse more than good spirits back to health.
Eco-tourism is one of the best ways to see the world in its raw form. Volunteers who are passionate about reprimanding litterbugs and commercials backed by Sarah McLachlan songs look no further! Israel has tons of opportunities to dive into coral reef conservation or work with endangered desert wildlife.
Human rights is at the forefront of much of the media surrounding the Middle East now more than ever. As a volunteer, you can use your powers to help to change policies and behaviors. These actions could take the form of proposal writing or raising awareness within the community. Participation in community committees intended to improve the quality of lives for those less fortunate are ideal for volunteers who are passionate about positive change in the region.
Costs & Affordability
Israel enjoys the finer things in life, including the highest standard of living (and hummus) in the Middle East. $1 will get you about 4 shekels, but daily costs are still comparable to the Western world. However, there is no need to get your harem pants in a bunch. Remember that program fee you’re paying up front? That covers all your necessities so you won’t be left high and dry. Money shouldn’t prevent anyone from pursuing their dream of going abroad, so be sure to take advantage of scholarship and fundraising opportunities!
Accommodation & Visas
The best part about volunteer programs in Israel (aside from the fact that they are the adventure of a lifetime) is that they put a roof over your head and food in your belly. Almost all volunteer in Israel programs provide housing and some of the best Israeli meals you can think up. This takes all the stress out of planning your trip, leaving you with more time to scroll through scenic Pinterest pictures of Israel.
Accommodation is usually in a group living situation or a homestay. Some volunteer programs in Israel have houses that are shared with like-minded wayfarers from around the world. Others may place you with a local family, which is the most authentic way to experience the culture in its natural habitat.
For the first three months of stay in Israel, Americans and Canadians do not need anything more than a tourist visa, which only requires a quick and dirty stamp at the airport. When your three months are up and you’ve hopelessly fallen in love with the country, international volunteers in Israel have the option to extend their stay another three months to do some more “touring”. For more information, visit GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory.
Benefits & Challenges
Israeli cuisine is reason enough to visit the country. After eating your way through Israel, you will return preaching to anyone who will listen that grocery store hummus is really the Kraft cheese of hummus. Snag a warm, freshly made pita as a vehicle for your hummus and call it a day. If for some reason your body is craving some alternate food groups, indulge in any of the other fresh, healthy staples Israel offers. Falafel, kanafeh, shakshuka…these are the only words you need to know.
Speaking of words you need to know…the answer is not many (#praisehandsemoji)! At first glance, Hebrew and Arabic look like straight up gibberish. Lucky for you, all Israeli school children learn Hebrew, Arabic, and English, and good English is spoken by virtually everyone in the country. Almost every highway and street sign is in English as well as Hebrew (and Arabic) and English newspapers are available everywhere.
Chutzpah is a Yiddish word that Israelis have adapted as somewhat of an unofficial motto. The word simply means courageous audacity. Israelis are out to push boundaries, state their minds, and make the most of every moment. Challenge yourself to do the same!
Are you often left wondering why you can’t have nice things? That’s because you forgot to make a budget! Making (and sticking to) a budget is no easy feat, but it will make all the difference when you decide to volunteer abroad in Israel. So buckle down, conquer your fear of spreadsheets, and do some adulting before you go out and play.
Israel stirs up exuberant diversity like nobody’s business. Many people, with many religious beliefs (and even lack of), walk through the day holding tolerance as second nature. This makes Israel an illustration depicting something deeper that unites us. Curious to find out exactly what it is? Then decide to volunteer in Israel today!