For the love of Zion [pg. 3]

South African Christian volunteers with handicapped children.

When Megan Isaacs, 28, first told her friends and members of her South African church that she had decided to spend a year as a volunteer in Israel, they naturally assumed that the horticulturist was going to work with plants at a kibbutz. They did not expect to hear was that the Cape Town native, who had just completed an internship at the city's Botanical Gardens, was planning to work with handicapped children because of her love for Zion. "People thought, 'Why are you giving up your career and going to a foreign land - in the middle of a war - where you are not going to even be getting a salary?'" she said in an interview. Others wondered why a South African looking to perform volunteer work would travel all the way to Israel when there was plenty to do in her own country. Despite the warnings, and the cool reception she received in her community, Isaacs pressed ahead with her plans. "I was not afraid. God took my fear away," she said. Isaacs first discovered her love for Israel when she met a group of elderly Evangelical Christians who were visiting the Botanical Gardens. They spoke about Israel "with a love and passion that I have never before experienced," she said. "I realized that my steps were guided to be in the right place at the right time," she said. Isaacs, who was raised as an Evangelical Christian in an upper middle class family but who had not otherwise been especially interested in Israel, suddenly started going to meetings about the country, praying for it and reading about the goings on in the Holy Land. The young woman said she knew in her heart that this was only preparation for going to Israel. Next, she spoke to her mother about Israel and its need for volunteers. Her mother, whose long-time interest in Israel had been revived by her daughter's sudden passion for the country, said that she would go first, and applied to be a volunteer. "She had always wanted to go and serve Israel in some way but she was always concerned that she was not going to be accepted," Isaacs said. Isaac's mother was accepted to work as a care-giver for handicapped children in Jerusalem on a program run by Ilan, the Israel Association for Physically Disabled Children. Her mother urged Isaacs to come to Israel, but advised her to first learn a language. "Actually, she said you have to speak Hebrew or Russian," Isaacs said. The young woman enrolled in a basic Hebrew course in Cape Town. After her mother returned to South Africa, Isaacs set out for Israel. For the next year, together with five female Israeli teens performing national service and a non-Jewish volunteer from Germany, she worked with a group of 10 Israelis, aged 14-21, who have cerebral palsy. Isaacs, who was repeatedly mistaken for a Jewish immigrant from Ethiopia, said most people were surprised to hear that she was not Jewish. In her halting Hebrew, she would repeatedly have to say, "Sorry, I am not Ethiopian, I am from South Africa." Despite the wave of bombings that continued throughout her stay, Isaacs said her family was supportive. "Megan, be strong. You will finish your term in Israel," her father would tell her. After 14 months, Isaacs returned to Cape Town, where she volunteered at a suburban home for the elderly, feeling she should do something similar in her own country. Isaacs said that she had been strengthened by her service. "It changed me, it made me stronger as a person," she said as she volunteering as an organizer for a pro-Israel conference, the "Jerusalem Summit Africa," that was sponsored by two Christian Evangelical organizations. Nowadays, Isaacs works at one of the oldest wine producers in the city. And perhaps not surprisingly, the avid lover of the Land of Israel has also been involved in marketing olive trees.