Angels Among Us: A hub of activity

The Seymour J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center, better known to Jerusalemites as the Israel Center, has been a familiar venue for lectures, Torah classes, concerts, films, workshops, trips and community programs since it was established in 1978 on Rehov Straus, and even more so since it moved to Keren Hayesod. But local residents may not be so familiar with the chesed programs the center offers as well. "The potential for doing chesed is great, and interorganizational cooperation is unlimited," says Menachem Persoff, director of programs for the Israel Center. As a home away from home for English-speaking olim, the center is a place to meet socially, be involved in education programs and participate in a wide range of common activities, he says. In that context, that public may also be rallied to help in times of need. For example, says Persoff, the center was involved in helping the residents of Sderot and those affected by the Second Lebanon War, assisting people in their shelters and attending to the needs of the IDF soldiers. On Purim, the Israel Center had a big sale on its premises, bringing vendors from Sderot to sell their wares. The center also took Jerusalemites to Sderot to help bolster the community. They also collected funds for mishloach manot to send to the soldiers and residents of development towns, as well as toys for children in the hospital. For a more hands-on sense of involvement, says Persoff, the participants of the center's youth programs collected and packed the mishloach manot themselves. "We had 500 to 600 kids packing up every day," he says. "And we had hundreds of kids writing letters to the residents and the soldiers," he adds. What's more, they took the youngsters on buses to personally deliver the mishloach manot to the soldiers. "It was a major happening. In those three weeks, we had thousands of people doing chesed." In all, 4,500 people volunteered, including participants from the ZOC and women from Emunah. "There are so many ways to get people involved," stresses Persoff. In fact, he says, the public is invited to help out with the next Purim project. "And during the year, for anybody who wants to help as a volunteer, there are many ways they can do that." For example, the Israel Center's Chesed Fund distributes necessities to those who turn to them for help, as well as providing monetary assistance for their most pressing financial needs. The Israel Center also includes the Old City Gemach, which gives interest-free loans to those who meet the criteria. Another charitable vehicle is the fund that helps young mothers who are still struggling after having been part of the disengagement from Gush Katif. The center provides them with such necessities as toys and clothing for their children. For the public at large, the Israel Center's youth and adult programs include relatively new services such as counseling, a beit din for money matters, an in-house and lending library, and shiurim at retirement residences. And NESTO, the Israel Center's program to help English-speaking youngsters make the transition from their native culture to Israeli society, now offers family programs and workshops to help bridge the communication gap between teenagers and their parents. Many of the center's activities are supported by the OU, the Jewish Agency and various Israeli government ministries and municipalities. "The Israel Center is always open for advice, help, aliya and halachic questions. That's who we are - we're there for the community," says Persoff. For information about volunteering, call 566-7787 ext. 204.