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Build Israel and be built by it

Magen David Adom volunteers assist an elderly woman FACEBOOK PHOTO
Magen David Adom volunteers assist an elderly woman FACEBOOK PHOTO

When Israel was young, Jewish volunteers would come from around the world to help work its land, build its cities and drain its swamps. Nowadays, Israel doesn’t need any more swamps drained but if you are looking for a different kind of adventure, new challenges await. There are several intriguing programs designed for volunteers from abroad that will let you work among Israelis – and perhaps, even save a life.

Israel’s Magen David Adom runs an ambulance program for volunteers 18 to 30. Participants spend six weeks giving first aid and emergency care. An advanced six-week program is also offered. Volunteers must speak basic conversational Hebrew but if yours isn’t up to snuff, a 10-session online tutor program will help you get there.

In his online diary, MDA volunteer Anthony Herman of Melbourne writes emergency calls have included car accidents, heart attacks, fevers, building collapses, shootings, bombings and a soccer riot. But his most memorable call was his last one. “Just before my shift ended, dispatch informed us that a mother was giving birth in her apartment. We arrived just in time to help with the delivery. It is something I shall never forget – for my final call I was able to participate in the miracle of birth. The last sound of my MDA service was not the wailing of the sirens, but the cries of a new born baby.”


If riding an ambulance isn’t your speed, then how about a fire engine? Lehavot Firefighters for Israel trains volunteers between the ages of 18 to-30 and places them in fire stations across the country. Knowledge of Hebrew is preferred and a minimum stay of one month is required.

Here’s how another volunteer program has described itself: “Why would anyone on vacation rise at 6 a.m., work eight hours a day, five days a week, endure Spartan accommodations and army food – and pay to do it? Join Sar-El Volunteers for Israel and you’ll understand.”

Volunteers in good health from their late teens to their 70s can work in hospitals and help with non-military work on army bases. Lisa Schreiber describes her service this way. “We signed up for Sar-El not knowing what to expect. We endured all the Private Benjamin jokes and amused chuckles and salutes from our friends … Each day we worked, we ate, we bonded with each other and with soldiers. … They gave us a chance to feel that we could do something for them and for the people of Israel. I hope they will remember us. I know that I will never forget them.” You can find the Sar-El Canada site here.

Do you have professional expertise to share? Graduates or young professionals in other fields can take a look at Stagerim, the Professional Internship Program. In the past, interns have been placed in a wide range of fields including medicine, tourism, high-tech, law, education, social service and communications.

Dental Volunteers for Israel offers licensed dentists the opportunity to volunteer to work in a Jerusalem clinic treating underprivileged children. You don’t have to be a pediatric dentist to volunteer although pedodontists and endodontists are welcome. About 3,000 children are treated annually by the volunteers.

If you like to hike and want to volunteer, check out “Livnot U’Lehibanot – To Build, and to Be Built”. These one- to six-week programs “provide an opportunity to hike and volunteer while exploring your Jewish identity in a truly open, spiritual and holistic environment.” Based in the mystical city of Tsfat, the program provides volunteer opportunities like working in a nature park or an old age home while spending time trekking through Israel’s north.


The WUJS Institute was founded by the World Union of Jewish Students in 1968. Back in the day, students spent seven months studying Hebrew as well as Israeli and Jewish courses in the Negev town of Arad. That was followed by five months working or volunteering in their fields of expertise elsewhere in the country. These days, the program has migrated from the desert to the big cities of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa but the goals of ulpan and work remain.

While I didn’t wind up draining any swamps, I have always treasured my WUJS experience.

Contact Mark Mietkiewicz via email here.