Retirement can be a daunting prospect for seniors. But many retirees are finding their newfound freedom nothing short of exhilarating through programs like those offered by Canadian & American Active Retirees in Israel (CAARI), which is celebrating its 36th anniversary in January.
CAARI offers active seniors a unique and stimulating opportunity to contribute to Israeli society and develop a deeper appreciation and knowledge of the country, its history and the work of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The CAARI program includes community service, touring, a speakers’ forum and JNF forest work.
“What brings retirees to CAARI is a love for Israel and wanting to do something more than just touring. Participants work in the community, visit historical sites, see new technologies, meet Israelis socially and learn about Israel’s issues and challenges,” said Susan Horwitz, CAARI’s executive administrator. “They feel as though they are a part of something and making a valuable contribution.”
The program offers two-to-six-week options that run from Jan. 10 through Feb. 21. “We are flexible. CAARI will tailor to personal needs,” said Horwitz. “We attract an average of 30 to 40 people each year and I’d say a third return every year.”
Doreen and Jerry Levine, a Toronto couple in their 70s, have travelled to Israel several times. “CAARI is not the usual sight-seeing program,” said Doreen Levine. “So much so, that we are going back again next year.”
“Everything they showed us was something we haven’t seen before. We went to (a) museum to see a new exhibit that just opened, visited several settlements where people spoke to us about the political situation and experimental farms. A highlight was teaching English to elementary school children. For me, it was natural, as I had been a teacher. For Jerry, it was a totally new experience. He absolutely loved it.”
Mimi and Malcolm Kronby, a Toronto couple who are both 84 years of age, also went on last year’s trip. “CAARI gave us a very intense experience – a behind-the-scenes look at Israel. We met some very nice people from Toronto, New York, Virginia and the Midwest. A fun outing was cooking with the chef at the Dan Hotel chain cooking school, preparing a whole pile of food and then eating it,” said Malcolm Kronby.
The travellers are transported by private bus. They sleep in top-notch accommodations and enjoy a variety of kosher cuisine, including weekly Shabbat dinners.
CAARI is definitely a program for those who are able to walk, manage stairs and get on and off a bus unaided. “We’re an eclectic group from different backgrounds. You don’t have to be retired, you can be single or married and people can come with a caregiver. We have people in their 40s, 50s and 60s. The oldest participants are in their 90s,” said Nathum (Neil) Eisenstadt, CAARI’s tour guide and director.
The volunteer portions of the program take place in Tel Aviv for approximately four hours a day, three or four days a week. Participants can choose to work on a variety of projects, including helping children in low-income neighbourhoods, working with patients in rehab hospitals or volunteering at a botanical garden.
There’s also a speakers’ forum, where they discuss issues and concerns facing Israel with academics, local media, artists, as well as prominent business and political leaders.
The group also works with JNF, rebuilding ancient terraces, pruning and planting trees, as well as clearing brush and foliage. They learn about JNF’s forestry technology and the history of the land.
Everything they showed us was something we haven’t seen before.
– Doreen Levine
They tour archeological and historical sites, as well. There are numerous highlights – from baking bread in the Galilee, to visiting the IDF Special Needs Program. Next year’s tour will include a visit to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, a tour of i24News, a trip to King Herod’s Palace, dance and rhythm workshops, time at the Dead Sea and Masada, and much more.
“We really try to not herd people around to too many sites a day. We like them to interact with the environment and the people we meet,” said Eisenstadt.
“Every day is different. We balance our time and offer plenty of free days. I think what makes CAARI so rewarding is the camaraderie of the group,” added Horwitz. “It’s interesting for Neil and me to watch this come together.