An investment consultant by trade, Jerusalemite Gidon Braude's favorite kind of bank is not the kind you might expect. He is a proud member of the Time Bank skills-barter program.
Refusing to describe himself as a volunteer, Braude says Time Bank participants are "a community of givers and takers" where individuals offer their expertise in return for services from their neighbors.
"It is not only about the stronger people in society giving assistance to the poor, Time Bank really creates [value]," says Braude, whose contribution is an Investment Club, where he provides 12 other Time Bank members with the tools to seek out their own financial investments. In return, he enjoys bimonthly walking tours of Jerusalem from a trained tour guide and monthly lectures in music and culture.
Started four years ago as a joint project of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Association of Community Centers, Time Bank has since expanded to 30 locations across the country and claims more than 3,000 "bankers."
The program will eventually be fully taken over by the Association of Community Centers; it is a good example of the kind of social projects that caused the JDC to be chosen as a recipient of this year's Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement and Special Contribution to Society and the State of Israel.
The prize will be awarded on Monday night, Independence Day eve.
"The JDC should be viewed as a 'social start-up,'" says Joint spokeswoman Orly Doron, one of its 240 professional staff members in Israel. "The goal is to develop social services and eventually pass those on to the government, local authorities or other bodies. It is also to, in some way, influence government policy and facilitate social change."
From working with children and youth at risk to improving conditions for immigrants and providing services to the aged through its Eshel subsidiary, the Joint acts as a "franchisor" for NGOs, offering training to community workers.
While there is little doubt it deserves the Israel Prize, some critics say that in recent years the organization has failed to fully transfer programs and promised funds on to the community-based organizations it claims to support.
"Distribution is not done equally and the organization, in many cases, stays involved when it is meant to leave," says one social activist, who preferred to remain nameless. "The JDC is no longer a grass-roots organization. More and more it is acting like a branch of the government."
However, Oranit Levy, codirector of the Time Bank, says the Joint stays involved in projects for an average of three years but that in many cases it continues to offer advice and training.
Shlomit Amichai, JDC executive director for volunteerism and a former Education Ministry director-general, highlights another Joint Distribution Committee-initiated programs, Amen, which offers teens an avenue to participate in their community through volunteering.
"In Netanya, for example, youths decided to create a beach watch dog program because they were concerned about the environment and the health aspect of dirty beaches," says Amichai. "The results of Amen are very far reaching. The program gives every person the chance to contribute and shows us the potential that Israeli youth have."
"Youths who learn to volunteer in society at a young age usually end up continuing to contribute as they move into adulthood," she says.
The JDC's president, former Baltimore Circuit Court judge Ellen Heller, and its Israel director-general, Arnon Mantver, will accept the award on behalf of the organization.