US olim gear up to host GA guests

UJC invites all AACI members to conference's closing session.

ujc symbol 88 (photo credit: )
ujc symbol 88
(photo credit: )
It did not take Barbara Gold very long to make up her mind that she wanted to be a volunteer at next week's United Jewish Communities' General Assembly, which will see some 2,500 Jews from North America arriving. "I want to show [American Jews] that Israel is a comfortable and safe place to live," Gold, who made aliya five years ago, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. "If I get to speak to people, then I'll certainly tell them that there is so much on offer here, and hopefully that will plant the seed in their minds that living here one day is possible for them as well." Originally from Houston, Texas, Gold and her husband Daniel will act as ushers on Tuesday evening at a special GA event in Tel Aviv celebrating the city's upcoming centennial. They are among 245 English-speaking olim and long-term residents who will volunteer their time to ensure the smooth running of the GA, which is North American Jewry's central annual gathering to discuss Israel-Diaspora relations. "I think many of our volunteers see themselves as ambassadors of Israel," explained Josie Arbel, director of absorption services at the AACI, who is overseeing the volunteer effort from Sunday's opening ceremony at Jerusalem's International Convention Center until the conference's closing sessions next Wednesday. "We are well placed to bridge Israel-Diaspora relations," she continued, adding that because of the work the organization has done over the past few weeks to get the event up and running, the UJC has officially invited all AACI members and guests to attend Wednesday's closing sessions for free. "I believe that it's a salute to all of Jerusalem's olim and it really shows their appreciation for all that we've done," she said. The AACI volunteers will be guiding guests staying in hotels around the capital to the relevant events, assisting people in the registration process and answering any questions that the thousands of visitors might have. "At the last GA, we helped out in a partial capacity, but this time we met with UJC representatives early on and offered them our full services," said Arbel. "While at first the logistics of coordinating so many volunteers seemed quite daunting, I never really hesitated in committing ourselves. There is no shortage of volunteers in the AACI." Of course the task at hand has been made much more straightforward with the help of the volunteers, said Arbel, especially Judy Kahan, a short-term resident who built a comprehensive database of volunteers' names, details and work schedules for the conference. "When I first contacted the AACI, I told them that I might be a little different than the average volunteer," said Kahan, who spent the last 16 years managing a Jewish retirement home in Orlando, Florida, before moving here for two years because of her husband's work. "I have been to several GAs [in North America] in the past and even worked for the Jewish Federation in my area. I see this as a way to give back to my community," she said. She added that she hoped her presence and that of the veteran immigrants would show that living in Israel is possible for both the short and long term. The AACI, which was founded in 1951, has more than 40,000 member families spread across the country, although not all are originally from North America. The organization, which offers immigrant advice and other services, is open to English-speaking olim from any country.