Jerusalem residents' diverse talents, ranging from Tai Chi and yoga to art and creative writing, were showcased at a free workshops fair at the German Colony's International Cultural Center for Youth last Friday. The event, which was organized by Time Bank, an innovative social scheme based on bartering services that operates in communities throughout the capital, marked the first joint venture by the organization's various Jerusalem branches. Participants ranged from secular to religious, from twenty-something to 70-plus and included Anglo, French and Russian immigrants who mingled alongside their Israeli counterparts demonstrating the system's widespread appeal. Time Bank is the brainchild of current national director Ayala Volchick. In 2002, after witnessing its success in the US, Volchick initiated the project as part of the field study for her social work degree. Its premise is that time can be repaid with time rather than money. Members exchange their time on one of three levels: Individually, for example in giving private music lessons or painting a fellow member's house; on a group level, most commonly by teaching a class; and through volunteering at one of a number of companies and organizations (many of which are nonprofit) affiliated with Time Bank. "Time recipients" must then repay the debt through the giving of their time to another member. In the case of affiliated companies, this entails providing their services free of charge. Each branch meets every two months to initiate new members and swap experiences. "The idea behind Time Bank is to create a society based on individual abilities rather than money," explains German Colony branch director Shira Avni. "We believe that everyone has something to contribute and no one need become a charity case. For this reason we only accept people who are open to both giving and receiving." The scheme's other goals, Avni says, are to provide opportunities and sometimes necessities for those who could not otherwise afford them as well as to create a sense of community in an increasingly anonymous society. Time Bank started as a pilot scheme funded by the Joint Distribution Committee. "To begin with we chose the German Colony and Kiryat Menahem, two areas on opposite ends of the economic and social spectrum, in order to compare the project's success in each," says Avni. "We found that both areas were successful in attracting large memberships and in both places the most prevalent reason for joining was a desire to be part of a community. "The main difference we encountered was that members of the Kiryat Menahem branch tended to reside in the neighborhood whereas those of the German Colony hailed from all over the city which is largely due to the fact that the German Colony, as a neighborhood, attracts people from all over," adds Avni. Within a year the project's success led to the establishment of Time Banks throughout the city. Today there are 10 branches in Jerusalem - and 20 more scattered throughout the country - most of which receive funding from nonprofit organizations, the Community Center Association and private donors. "We even have one very successful branch in the center of the city specifically for Jerusalem residents in their 20s and 30s, established in conjunction with the municipality with the specific intention of creating a community for young people," says Avni. "After seeing how successful Time Bank was in terms of promoting community, the municipality felt that the opportunity to meet other young people through the project would provide an incentive for young people to live in Jerusalem." German Colony branch member Bee Hoffman is one of many who has gained from the social aspect of the scheme. "The friendships I've made since joining two years ago have added a new dimension to my life," enthuses the 85-year-old American immigrant who runs a weekly English-language conversational group in return for having her dog walked. "In an increasingly faceless society we forget the value of authentic human interaction and how much it can add to the lives of both those receiving and giving." Nomi Springer of the Mevaseret Zion branch echoes Hoffman's sentiments. "Time Bank allows me to feel a sense of belonging," she says. "I run a creative writing group which has become very precious to me; the members are like my family." For the majority of members, financial considerations appear to be less of an incentive than community, and perhaps surprisingly, saving money is no more of a motivation for branch members in economically disadvantaged areas than for their more privileged counterparts. If anything the scheme appears to attract a larger number of middle-class participants. The affluent German Colony boasts the largest branch by far with 700 members as compared with an average of 100 in other areas. Avni maintains, however, that this is partly because the branch is one of the oldest as well as the appeal of the German Colony to residents throughout the city. Gilo branch director Naama Barzilai concedes, however, that greater efforts may be required to publicize Time Bank's services within disadvantaged communities. "Often those on the lower end of the social scale have less access to information ... which may be something we need to target," she says. "At the moment we have no branches in haredi or Arab neighborhoods and that's something we're attempting to change."

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