Beyond the hundreds of Israelis in need served by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (the “Fellowship”), the group has thousands of volunteers who provide those people with much-needed time and care. That is “the extra neshama [soul] of all that we do,” Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the Fellowship, told The Jerusalem Post in a recent interview.
Two of its flagship programs, among the many the Fellowship offers, are aimed at Israel’s elderly population and new immigrants.
“Our volunteers are there to alleviate the profound loneliness experienced by the elderly,” said Eckstein.“Loneliness is an illness among the elderly, and the fact is that some of these people go days – even weeks – without seeing another human, which hurts them emotionally and cognitively.”
This is where the Fellowship’s volunteers work their magic. The simple act of visiting a homebound elderly person for an hour or two helps maintain their dignity and save them from the crippling effects of loneliness. Such companionship can transform their twilight years into something positive and meaningful.
One of these volunteers is Yevgeny.
He lives in Nazareth Illit and has been volunteering with The Fellowship for the past two years.
He goes once a week to meet with an elderly man to keep him company and help him with odds and ends if he needs. Over time they became close friends.
For Yevgeny, it’s all about giving back to this often-forgotten segment of the population. “I believe that you need to help older people. I feel that volunteering is good for the people you help and to the volunteers as well,” he said.
“This has been a meaningful experience that empowers me as a person to help another person who is in need.”
The Fellowship also works to help immigrants get strong starts and find their places in their new home.
The Fellowship brings thousands of new immigrants from 26 countries to Israel, and its volunteers offer a wealth of services, including logistical assistance, connecting them with ulpanim
(Hebrew-language courses) and helping them deal with the bureaucracy that comes with being a new immigrant.
In addition, every week, dozens of volunteers travel to Ben-Gurion Airport to greet immigrants with flags, balloons and other gifts, to give them a real sense that they have finally come home, to family.
THE FELLOWSHIP hotline is also run by volunteers and is open to anyone in Israel who has questions or concerns. “We try to help people with our own internal services. But when a question is out of our areas, we connect them with hundreds of organizations that offer a variety of solutions,” Eckstein said.
Yelena, also from Nazareth Illit, is one of the volunteers who works with new immigrants.
“I volunteer here because I love to help other people and to do good. For many years I worked as a caretaker and I saw how much help the elderly need. I realized the potential of giving of myself and it really lifts my spirits,” she said.
Yelena mainly fields calls on the Fellowship hotline. She also makes house calls to new immigrants to make sure they are acclimating to their new surroundings, offering them a much-needed listening ear or helping hand.
Overseeing all of these helpers is Chen Dor, the Fellowship’s national director of volunteer programs.
For the past two years, Dor has been in charge of some 3,000 volunteers throughout Israel who work in a variety of capacities.
Around 1,200 of them are active in the volunteer program, while the rest work on a one-time or occasional basis, mainly helping out around the holidays or pitching in for big events throughout the year.
During her time as director, Dor has overseen significant growth in the volunteer program, adding to the overall effectiveness the Fellowship’s mission.
“In the past two years, things have really developed with our volunteer program,” she said. “We have improved our recruitment programs and our volunteers really help bring our programs to life.”
The volunteer program is always busy. In March, the volunteers held 53 events around the country, mainly centered on Purim and Good Deeds Day, Dor said.
Despite all that is being done and the thousands of generous volunteers, the Fellowship is always looking ahead to expand their efforts and get even more volunteers helping people in new ways.
“We have volunteers in almost every city in the country and we really work hard to take care of what is needed in each community,” Dor said.
The hotline can be reached at *9779, at moked@ ifcj.org.il, or on Facebook at Moked Hayedidut.