(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Chaim Topol will be among those honored with the President’s Prize for Volunteerism on Tuesday. That will be the last time outgoing President Shimon Peres gives the annual prize before he leaves office.
Peres has repeatedly mentioned that what has impressed him most is the national spirit of volunteerism; it transcends ideological, ethnic religious and generational bounds.
The Jordan River Village, a holiday fun camp for children aged 9-18, headed by actor, singer and portrait artist Topol, is on the list of prize winners. The village takes children with life-threatening illnesses from all over the Middle East and gives them an opportunity to have an exciting, nearly normal existence for a week or so free-of-charge. Most of the doctors and nurses there volunteer. The project was initially funded by Murray and Marilyn Grant, who raised $28 million in 2011 to get it off the ground. Since then, the Jordan River Village has added to the quality of life for more than 2,300 seriously ill children, and provided badly needed, temporary relief for their families.
Peres, one of the politicians Topol turned to for assistance when the project was still a dream, helped secure land in the Galilee for it.
Other organizations and institutions receiving the prize include Moreshet Yaacov, a nucleus of biblical studies teachers that has been working voluntarily for 12 years in socio-economically deprived areas; Alut, the National Society for Autistic Children; Big Brother, which provides emotional and social security for lone soldiers; and Tzeva, a Hebrew acronym for Young People Building the Future.
Moreshet Yaacov was set up by the Orot Israel Teachers Academy. Its volunteers come into daily contact with 45 families who receive educational, social and psychological support, mainly in Rehovot. This is especially helpful to single mothers and their children.
Alut works for the rights and well-being of autistic children and adults, and develops special services for this population.
Big Brother comprises some 200 volunteers of varying ages who are on hand, after army service, to give advice and provide emotional and social support for lone soldiers, or those estranged from their families.
Tzeva incorporates volunteers dedicated to reducing the social gap. They reach out to 9-12 year olds to help them with their studies and with social interaction, to give them an early sense of civic responsibility.
Individual recipients include: Simha Aviv (35 years as a volunteer dedicated to Arab-Jewish co-existence, assisting sick Beduin children, and children with cancer (clients of the Haim organization); Chairman of the Aleh in the Negev village for the severely disabled and Entebbe veteran Maj.-Gen. (Res) Doron Almog; Rabbi Abraham Yeshayahu, who encourages kidney donation (having been an organ recipient himself) and helps find donors for people who need a transplant; Batya Rappaport, a Warsaw- born Holocaust survivor and founder of Sulam (dedicated to helping Holocaust survivors recover from hospitalization); television presenter Ruba Varood, a Christian Arab concerned with people with special needs, and projects such as the empowerment of Arab women and cancer awareness – she initiated a marathon in Nazareth to raise funds for the oncology department of a Galilee hospital; and Faiz Rad, a man classified as 100 per cent disabled who works in morale-boosting and rehabilitation assistance for disabled soldiers. (Since 1992, he has been the representative of minorities in the Disabled Veterans Association.) This year’s exceptional young volunteer is 16-year-old Raz Zuaretz from Netanya, a volunteer since age 12 years old in a youth group sponsoring informal educational programs. He also works with Latet to collect food for the needy.
A 13-member committee including wellknown figures from different walks of life debated over hundreds of nominations before casting their votes.