Instagrammer Elizabeth Savetsky with students at Kfar Bnai Zion on her recent trip to Israel — Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Savetsky
Tourism in Israel reached an all-time high last year, with more than 4.1 millions visitors entering the country. In fact, it's one of the fastest-growing destinations in the world. Visitors flock to Israel to float in the Dead Sea, to haggle at the markets, to hike Masada and, of course, to explore the biblical Holy Land.
Temple Mount, in the Old City of Jerusalem, attracts Jews, Christians and Muslims who come to pray at sacred sites like the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
They also come to give back.
There’s a core concept in Judaism called "tikkun olam," which literally means "repairing the world." Although the expression gets used in a variety of ways, its philosophy plays a vital role in everyday life in Israel and is a big reason why so many people of all religions come to Israel to volunteer every year.
Working on a kibbutz is the country’s classic volunteer experience, and celebs from Jerry Seinfeld and Sacha Baron Cohen to Helen Mirren and Annie Leibovitz have all done just that.
But if you don’t have the two months required to volunteer at most kibbutzim, there are plenty of other ways to make a difference and add real meaning to your vacation.
Since 1908, Bnai Zion Foundation has supported more than 100 humanitarian projects in Israel that benefit people of every background and religion, and you can spend a few hours – or a few days – helping children, seniors, students or patients.
"Our projects offer a wealth of volunteer opportunities that are extremely rewarding, both for the volunteers and for those whom they are helping," said Rebecca Harary, Senior Vice President of Bnai Zion Foundation. "Whether you are singing with the children of Ahava Village or visiting Holocaust survivors at the Yuvalim Center, your trip will feel that much richer for giving your time to help the people of Israel."
Here are some of Bnai Zion Foundation’s life-changing projects where every hour you volunteer acts as a much-needed stitch to repair the hole in the world.
Israel Elwyn helps children and adults with disabilities gain independence — Photo courtesy of Bnai Zion Foundation
What they do: Israel Elwyn serves more than 4,500 children and adults with disabilities, providing them with tools to gain independence so they can live and work in the community. They are all about inclusion and are considered a cutting-edge leader in Israel in rehabilitation, early intervention, supported living, youth transition programs, vocational training and employment services, and self-advocacy for people with disabilities.
What you can do: Engage with workers as they do their jobs, or help prepare meals for the residents.
David Yellin Academic College of Education
Today's students at David Yellin College are tomorrow's teachers — Photo courtesy of Bnai Zion Foundation
What they do: Training the teachers of the future, David Yellin College focuses on educating for tolerance and multiculturalism, and they offer a number of programs and workshops aimed at promoting dialogue between Jewish and Arab students.
What you can do: Give students learning English a chance to practice their conversational speech, pronunciation and writing, and let them read aloud to you. Or help the staff sort books in the children’s library.
Bnai Zion Medical Center
Bnai Zion Medical Center is a frontline hospital for soldiers and civilians — Photo courtesy of Bnai Zion Foundation
What they do: Located dangerously close to the borders of Syria and Lebanon, Bnai Zion Medical Center was designated as an official military hospital, and recently broke ground on a much-needed underground emergency room. Reflecting the diverse population of Northern Israel, Christian and Muslim Arabs, Druze and Jewish physicians and staff work together to bring the best medical care to every patient, regardless of beliefs or background.
What you can do: Visit patients who are lonely, be a greeter in the lobby or become a volunteer clown, making a hospital stay less scary for children. Note that volunteer opportunities at Bnai Zion Medical Center require training and clearance by staff.
Ahava Village for Children & Youth
Ahava means love — Photo courtesy of Bnai Zion Foundation
What they do: Ahava Village is a center for children aged six to eighteen who have been removed by court order from high-risk home situations. Comprised of apartments, educational facilities and leisure areas, the campus is home to 200 children who live with foster parents in a family-oriented environment. "Ahava" means "love" in Hebrew, and that philosophy is reflected in the personalized care, therapy and support every child receives.
What you can do: Help the kids rehearse for one of the shows they put on, feed the animals, tend the garden or complete a service project, like painting or re-tiling the beautiful mosaics throughout the village.
The George Schaeffer Music Conservatory & Cultural Center
Music is the universal language at the George Schaeffer Music Conservatory — Photo courtesy of Bnai Zion Foundation
What they do: The Cultural Center provides a 600-seat auditorium for live events, including the Ma’ale Adumim Youth Symphony, which is headed by renowned cellist Benjamin Shapira and which makes its home at the Music Conservatory. The Youth Symphony has toured internationally and recently performed at Carnegie Hall.
What you can do: Volunteer as an usher at a performance or simply offer support in the audience during a rehearsal. If you’re a musician, you can help the members of the Ma’ale Adumim Youth Symphony.
Los Angeles-based "Laughter On Call" is joined by local funny man Avi Yosef at Yuvalim Senior Center, where laughter is a universal language — Photo courtesy of Dani Klein Modisett, Laughter On Call
What they do: The Yuvalim Center in Ma’ale Adumim is the only community center for seniors in an area that is home to more than 4,000 elderly citizens, including more than 700 Holocaust survivors. The center provides a variety of social and enrichment activities as well as hot meals for hundreds of people every day.
What you can do: Lead a class, from art to Zumba, or just spend time talking to the seniors and showing them that someone cares. Listen to stories, share them and assure Holocaust survivors that we will never forget.
The Library of Peace
The Library of Peace is a community gathering place — Photo courtesy of Bnai Zion Foundation
What they do: The Library of Peace serves as the municipal library, providing library services and education programming to residents of the city of Ma’ale Adumim – many of whom are seniors – along with its surrounding areas.
What you can do: Read with the children and help them practice their English, put on a performance for the kids or help the librarians organize and reshelve books.
Kfar Bnai Zion
Volunteering at Kfar Bnai Zion can be all fun and games — Photo courtesy of Bnai Zion Foundation
What they do: This moshav (like a kibbutz), intended as a refuge for Holocaust survivors and Jewish former POWs and farmers, was founded with 15 families in 1947 and is now a thriving agricultural community of over 1,400.
What you can do: Teach the kids American games like Simon Says and play them together or put on a show for them. The moshav is all about farming, so you can also help out in the field.
Yad Leah provides clothing for low-income families — Photo courtesy of Bnai Zion Foundation
What they do: This volunteer-based organization collects new and gently-used clothing in the United States to distribute to low-income families in more than 30 Israeli communities.
What you can do: Help unpack and sort clothing for people in need at one of the many Yad Leah locations in Israel or pack care packages for new parents and brides in need.
Magen David Adom
Magen David Adom is Israel's national ambulance service — Photo courtesy of Bnai Zion Foundation
What they do: Magen David Adom is Israel’s national ambulance service.
What you can do: After completing training (which requires a fee), volunteers can work with an ambulance in the Israeli city of their choice for five weeks. You will be at the forefront of emergencies, and truly make a difference in the lives of Israeli citizens.