There's no time to lose

... but plenty to gain at a Time Bank aimed at students and young professionals.

For students and young professionals who are living on a tight budget, there may be an alternative way to "pay" for entertainment and services in Jerusalem. Created more as a social project than a solution to the current economic crisis, the Time Bank run by Youth in the City invites its participants to be part of a barter system, where transactions are measured in hours, not shekels, spent. "Currently I am helping someone set up and manage a Web site," says Na'ama Pinchasi, 28, a language editor who has often extended her expertise to the Time Bank. "I have also helped new immigrants improve their written Hebrew for academic papers." In exchange for her time, she has accumulated 10 hours of credit, five of which she has already spent on salsa lessons. Aside from the one-on-one exchanges that take place, there is also a fixed calendar of group workshops that include yoga, Feldenkrais, cooking, dance and music courses that are offered each month as a bartering option. "It's a place for youth to meet - not a pub, but a roof to meet under," says project manager Galit Raz. "This was one of the things missing in Jerusalem." Amit Poni, coordinator of social development for Youth in the City, adds: "There was a void in recreational activities for youth and an inaccessibility to cultural institutions." While other groups began offering student discounts on admission to museums and theaters, Youth in the City decided to create a communal space for leisure activities where money was not an issue. "I really loved the idea that not everything has to be done through money. There is something more pure about it," says Pinchasi. "I have never felt this good about volunteering my time." But Raz emphasizes that the Time Bank goes beyond the notion of volunteerism. "The idea is to give and also to receive - and to maintain a balance between the two," she says, explaining that she often encounters people who are chronic "givers" who don't know how to let others do for them as well. On the flip side, there are many people who come through her door who don't think they have anything to offer. "It's important to show these people that in fact they have something to give," says Raz, who will enlist their help in planning social events for the group. With 204 registered members to date, the Time Bank is continually growing. Since its inception in February 2007, the membership has increased at a rate of eight to 10 newcomers per month, estimates Poni. The project's popularity has grown so much that it is no longer advertised to the public. People hear about it by word of mouth or are brought in by friends who have already participated. "Our job is to help integrate new members," says Raz. "Once people start to get involved, they usually get sucked in." While this is not the only Time Bank that exists in Jerusalem, it is the only one that operates around a specific population - it caters solely to the city's youth. The other nine are run out of neighborhood community centers and serve the general public in each geographic area. "Other banks often send their youth to us because they just don't fit in there," says Raz. Alternatively, programs offered by Youth in the City are distinctly geared toward the 18 to 30 age bracket, aiming to attract a mostly student demographic. What it does have in common with the other Time Banks, though, is that "it really strengthens the community," says Poni, who would like to see greater support from the municipality. Under the new leadership of Mayor Nir Barkat, Poni would also like to see an increased investment in Jerusalem's cultural institutions. "For four years, we haven't even had a head of the Cultural Department on the city council," he says. Pinchasi is also waiting to see changes under the city's new administration. She laments that unlike Tel Aviv, where spontaneous street performances often take place, Jerusalem is lacking in cultural activities. In the meantime, Poni and his team are coordinating social programs and activities, such as group sing-alongs and picnics in the park, to help young Jerusalemites connect with one another and with the city. And they are constantly finding ways to improve the Time Bank project. For example, they are building a new Web site that will allow participants to sign up online and facilitate the match-up process between "merchants." "There's still a lot more to do, and we have just started," says Poni.