Volunteering in Israel

Volunteering: The Tenuous Thread

 
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Reprinted from the "Esra" Magazine # 141, September-October 2007, page 86.

There's something about volunteering that gives me cause for thought. As a volunteer for a public institution, one of my first assignments was to read aloud to a lady who was losing her eyesight. nava ben moshe private email: navnavit@gmail.com

At our bi-monthly group meetings for volunteers, several points were raised, the most prevalent being whether a person of comfortable means is entitled to free service from a public institution or is this service to be extended only to people financially badly off? Opinions were divided, but most agreed that the needy be given preference. No real conclusion was reached.

My work ceased once I had finished reading the book, her husbands autobiography. She then received household help which she needed more.

My next assignment was tutoring a family of four whom I helped with their English lessons and homework. I had two or three of them during the same two to three years.

Another child was very bright. From our conversation a couple of months later, I understood his circumstances were totally different from those of the other family. He boasted of a grand barmitzvah celebration after he and his extended family had been abroad to celebrate. I had no reason to doubt him. Not long after, he abandoned the lessons of his own accord. Nevertheless, I did make mention of this at our next meeting as they had sent me that pupil in the first place.

These past six years I have been teaching at an old peoples club where, thankfully, no serpent rears its ugly head.

Id considered volunteering English lessons in my home. To my delight I was expecting a young girl for extra tuition. My delight wasnt lessened by the fact that the young lady was 51 years old (her words)...Kol Hakavod.

As is my custom with a new pupil, I like to know some whys and wherefores. We talk a bit about their home life too. Well, I got more than I had bargained for. She had a good job and so did her husband, her children had settled well and they had been abroad recently. That was only the tip of the iceberg. As she was leaving, I asked her about her bus as she lived out of town. I have a car, was the reply.

I told her I would have to check as I didnt know whether this was connected with Esra or not.

On speaking to the woman at the institution, I wasnt satisfied when that lady informed me that the pupil was underprivileged because she needed the lessons: Shes very poor in English. I couldnt argue with that. Then she added: She pays a lot for these extra lessons, thinking that justified free tuition by a volunteer.

We had an extra long lesson the following week. I talked about our volunteers clubs, where we pay a small sum for lectures et al, which goes to help good causes; she was unable to grasp that volunteers donate money as well as time. I said I would take up the matter with our organization. She said she, too, would make enquiries.

I liked her very much and was hoping to find a loophole that she would offer to donate to an organization to justify free tuition.

She was bright, knowing what I had in mind. I agreed that she could come the following week. I was eager to teach her and thought Id give her at least one more lesson, hoping things would sort themselves out.

She phoned to say that she would not be coming again. Thus ended my dilemma. Nevertheless, I am far from satisfied at such a conclusion.

Is there no thin line between needy people who barely have the basics and those who live comfortably but havent enough pride not to accept what they consider their due - that the world - which is Israel - owes them a living?     

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