OU Israel Center Dispatches Hundreds of Volunteers to the North

27 Jul 2006


Israelis in bomb shelters in the north of Israel are not alone. With the outbreak of war, the OU’s Seymour J. Abrams OU Jerusalem World Center (the Israel Center) immediately mobilized to bring sustenance and comfort to their brothers and sisters seeking protection underground from Hezbollah attacks. As many as 700 Israel Center volunteers have gone north from Jerusalem to go from bomb shelter to bomb shelter, with each team to spend about four hours in each place, covering two shelters per day.

According to Israel Center Director Rabbi Avi Berman, “The teams enter the bomb shelters with two specially prepared kits. One they leave in place contains food items, snacks, box and card games, arts and crafts material, and the like. But they don’t just deposit the kit; they organize the children and adults in various activities and involve them in conversations.”

“A second kit stays with the volunteers,” Rabbi Berman added, “containing a mini-DVD player, audio tape machine and cassettes, work tables, chairs and more.”

“Accompanying the volunteer teams are professional musicians and singers, magicians, balloon artists and other specialists who put that extra smile on the faces and in the hearts of young and old.”

In order to play music during the current period of mourning of The Nine Days, leading up to the fast of Tisha B’Av on August 3 commemorating the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, the Israel Center had to receive special rabbinic permission — a heter. “What is at issue is NOT regular entertainment,” Rabbi Berman explained, “but the kind which will hopefully fight against the depression, fear and boredom that is common at the present time.”

The OU programs required tremendous logistical planning, including the hiring of buses and other means of transporting volunteers and supplies, as well as coordination to facilitate efficient coverage of as many towns as possible, Rabbi Berman reports.

The Israel Center is also gearing up for Shabbat. For example, the Makom Balev (Place in the Heart) program, which brings traditional Judaism to non-observant boys and girls across the country, is running specially designed Shabbatonim – Sabbath celebrations – this Friday evening and Saturday in selected hot spots around the country to enable the joy of Shabbat to relieve the anxiety of war. Another group of 80 participants from Tiberias will attend a Solidarity and Chizuk (strength) Shabbat in the northern community of Keshet.

In other activities, the OU has collected and distributed thousands of dollars to fund various needs of soldiers and residents of the areas under fire. These contributions have been raised by the OU’s Israel Emergency Fund, which can be accessed at www.ou.org. Fundraising is also taking place at the Israel Center. In addition, the Center is serving as a clearing house for Jerusalemites who are offering home hospitality to refugees from the north. The Center is also a drop-off and pick-up point for donations of candies and snacks for soldiers at the front.