A group of volunteers from CAARI (KKL-JNF Canadian American Active Retirees in Israel) visiting Israel in honor of CAARI's 28th anniversary had originally been scheduled to spend Tuesday, February 1, in a KKL-JNF forest, but the arrival of much-needed rain brought them to the KKL-JNF head office in Jerusalem instead, where long-time CAARI volunteers Arnold and Anice Stark were surprised to find themselves honored for their commitment to the program. The Starks, who are from Toronto, have been dedicated participants in the program for seventeen years. Thinking they were coming simply to view KKL-JNF's Golden Books, where donations dating back to 1901 are registered, the couple was pleasantly surprised to discover that in appreciation of their dedication and enthusiasm for the program, a grove of trees had been planted in their honor.
“The Starks are a classic example of what CAARI is all about,” said Andy Michelson, KKL-JNF Head of Protocol, upon presenting the couple with a special certificate of appreciation. “Here is a couple who has been involved in CAARI for 17 years without missing a beat. They give up a couple months every year to come to Israel, where they spend time in the forest and in schools teaching English. This is something that matters and is a real contribution to the State of Israel.”
“To say that I am overwhelmed is an understatement,” said Anice, 76, visibly touched by the honor. “Actually, Arnold and I participate in this program because we benefit from it. Rather than staying in Canada during the winter and freezing, we come here. We love to come to Israel and the fact that our son lives here is an extra bonus.”
Anice noted that they had originally looked into other volunteer programs but had concluded that the CAARI program was the one best suited for them. Over their many years of volunteering, they have participated in a wide variety of community service programs including painting a school for brain damaged children, working at an Israeli equivalent of Goodwill and teaching English at a school in Tel Aviv. “CAARI gives us an opportunity to see an Israel that tourists don’t,” she said. “Every year there's something different.”
Program director Susan Horwitz noted that the Starks also did volunteer work for the program in Canada, helping with mailings, recruiting new participants and hosting meetings in their home. Meir Malcha, who founded the program 28 years ago, said that the Canadian program would not have been successful without the Starks' help. “We can’t thank you enough," Horwitz said. "May the trees that were planted in your honor benefit many future generations.”
The Starks’ son Harley, who came to Israel at the age of 18, was also present to pay tribute to his parents. “I get to see them every year because they come to Israel to volunteer. Thanks to CAARI, they are always making new friends, which is very important for them socially,” Harley said. “It's something they look forward to.”
CAARI offers a unique chance for active seniors to experience Israel in an in-depth way, enabling them to familiarize themselves with Israeli society through various volunteering opportunities. Volunteers spend between eight to twelve weeks in Israel, touring the country and performing community service in various institutions including schools and hospitals, as well as forestry work.
"CAARI volunteers often prove themselves to be of hardier stock than their
younger counterparts in terms of energy, vitality and their eagerness to visit sites and contribute to Israeli society through volunteering," said tourism director Neil Eisenstadt, who has been working with the program for 10 years. "They work with children and in hospitals, and serve as role models for their children and grandchildren. The program has a different itinerary every year and always includes visiting sites throughout Israel, from Eilat to the northern border. Groups range in number from 17 to 85.
“We hike through riverbeds and they help each other when the going gets tough. We often find ourselves moving faster than groups of much younger people. The CAARI volunteers never seem to tire, and in the evenings, instead of going to sleep, they're off to the theater or a concert hall, or ready for a game of bridge," Neil added with a smile.
Recently retired Sidney Golden, 77, of Toronto, said that he and his wife had been looking for an opportunity to volunteer in Israel and were happy to find CAARI: “It's really energizing, I am getting a big kick out of it. We took part in putting together stone terraces in the north,” he said. “The group is really engaging and there is a lot of good chemistry.”
“Not only do we feel that we are giving something to Israel, but Israel is also giving something to us,” added Marion Silberman, 75, of northern Westchester, NY, who has already been in Israel 15 times. This was the fifth time she was participating in CAARI: “It enriches our Israel experience, to be part of the land in a different way. It gives us a chance to be involved.”
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