Michael Borkow had done the Israel tourist thing before, and wanted to spend his week's vacation volunteering in Israel.
"I didn't want to sit in a hotel room or listen to a tour guide tell me to look out the left- hand side of the bus. I wanted to show my support of Israel in a meaningful way," said Borkow, a Los Angeles-based television writer and producer who has worked on "Friends," "Malcolm in the Middle" and "Roseanne."
While it may sound like a simple aspiration, Borkow could not find a short-term volunteer program. He only found one-month, two-month, or six-month-long options. So Borkow decided to create his own program, and two and a half years later he launched the Israel Volunteer Corps (IVC).
Earlier this month the Entertainment Division of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles participated in the IVC pilot program. They painted apartments in Jerusalem, hosted a Yom HaAtzmaut picnic for victims of terror and their families, and spent a day working in a Tel Aviv food bank, packing and distributing essentials for poor immigrant families.
"One of the reasons I went on this particular trip was the volunteer aspect," said Academy-Award winning writer-director Adam Davidson. "Now that I'm back, I find it's the part that I talk about most to people. Especially the picnic -- you see so much in the media, but we had the chance to personally interact with these families, and hear their stories, it was the highlight of my trip."
Zahava Nachmias said IVC's work in her home changed her life. Nachmias lives in a tiny two-bedroom apartment with her family of six.
"I was so depressed. For three years, I needed help, and now look how beautiful. What you have done for me is incredible," said Nachmias, holding her hands to her heart. "I'm really happy that people from abroad are ready to help. As an Israeli, I am really grateful."
Borkow also organized an IVC sponsorship program that matches people with money -- who are either too afraid or too busy to go to Israel -- with younger people who have the desire but not the funds.
Now Borkow says that IVC will begin to coordinate short-term volunteer opportunities for Americans. Like the program created for the Entertainment Division, synagogues, federation groups, teen tours and even families traveling to Israel for a bar mitzvah or wedding, can add a volunteer component to their trip through IVC. IVC will do the legwork and arrange a volunteer opportunity that matches the group's agenda and interests.
IVC will also host weeklong trips to Israel, on which participants will spend their mornings working on volunteer projects and their afternoons and evenings participating in a variety of optional activities.
"Think of it as Club Med with a purpose," Borkow said. "It's a fun, social and rewarding trip, where participants can offer hands-on assistance to Israel."
It's this chance for significant contribution that moved IVC pilot program participants.
"With volunteering, we got to see a side of Israel we never would have seen on a regular tour," said independent producer Steven Rubenstein. "We were let into lives of Israeli poor and Israelis who were touched by terror. As an American Jew, it was really special to have contact with these people, with this part of Israeli life."
For more information on the Israel Volunteer Corps, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
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