In The News

Midreshet Beit Shemesh Volunteers:
Making a Difference in Our Community
By Atara Stein, Director in 2004 


This past year has been an especially busy one for the young volunteers of Midreshet Beit Shemesh. Since 2000, Midreshet Beit Shemesh has been bringing post-high school young adults to the city. These full-time volunteers run a wide range of highly respected programs within the local formal and informal educational systems

By now you might well be asking yourself: What is Midreshet Beit Shemesh?

Midreshet Beit Shemesh (“MBS”) is a non-profit organization founded by former city council member Ilan Geal-Dor and a number of Beit Shemesh residents. Its mission is to instill in the children and youth of the area a strong connection to Jewish Values, the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. “The way we achieve this connection”, says Chairman of the Board, Ilan Geal-Dor “is through teaching, studying and ongoing interaction with students.”

Today, MBS is well on its way to achieving its mission. MBS has a presence in all the city’s state and state-religious elementary schools, in a majority of the junior high and high schools, and in the special needs elementary school. “Most people have no idea of the extensive reach of our organization,” says Ilan. Our programs include the Beit Shemesh branch of the nationwide network of "Centers for Jewish Education Enrichment" (under the supervision of the Ministry of Education); the Moadonit HaNarkis after-school enrichment program for Ethiopian children; and Mentoring Services for students at risk. The programs are funded primarily by grant funds, allocations from the Ministry of Education and private donations

MBS volunteers come from around the country and from overseas. Some are Sherut Leumi (National Service) volunteers. Others are graduates of the Kibbutz HaDati (Religious Kibbutz) Movement who have deferred their army service to first volunteer and come to Beit Shemesh as "Garin Ma’ayan." These enthusiastic youngsters are joined by World Bnei Akiva one-year program participants who also volunteer in Beit Shemesh through MBS

Managing and financing all these activities is a major effort. “We have a fantastic permanent staff”, says Ilan. “But maintaining the programs and the volunteers is more costly that you think. That’s why support from local donors is so important”

As the end of the school year approaches, MBS volunteers are beginning to take stock of their experience. Yarden, from Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, joined Garin Ma’ayan with a vision to help children in need. She mentors in the local schools in the mornings and volunteers at two after-school moadoniot in the afternoons. "Until now, I lived in a bubble and didn't meet children who grew up in the face of severe financial and family problems. I am there to listen to their problems and to be a big sister. All the Garin members feel that our students really value our friendship. We hear personal stories that they don’t feel comfortable sharing with their teachers or peers about relationships and difficulties at school or at home. We are able to consult with our social worker and get advice as to how to help these children, without betraying their confidence"

Merav, from Kibbutz Ein HaNatziv, tells about the initial shock of working in Moadonit HaNarkis. "I never encountered poverty and hunger on Kibbutz, and here some of the children grab at food … some are also very shabbily dressed. There were also a few children who had trouble connecting with us in the beginning. As the year progressed, we've become like big brothers and sisters to them. When we come, the kids jump all over us and hug us"

In the Moadonit, the madrichim provide homework help, a hot meal, chugim (extra curricular enrichment) and a lot of love and attention. Merav says, "The kids are drawn to the Moadonit because they know that we are there for them." Yarden adds, "Since their parents are new immigrants who don't know the language or the system, the children rely on us heavily. They always ask me about life in Israel. So I decided to take four children who I get along with especially well to my Kibbutz on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day). They are still talking about the visit"

Esti, a Sherut Leumi volunteer from Petach Tikva, teaches regular classes at four elementary schools on subjects such as Jewish Holidays, Zionism, and Jewish Identity. She enjoys being a madricha/teacher and particularly enjoys watching the children discover new things in the classes. Esti feels that she and her colleagues are appreciated in Beit Shemesh. "The children wait from week to week for us to arrive in their class. The teachers treat us with respect. Even the cab drivers know that we are Sherut Leumi volunteers!"

MBS Sherut Leumi volunteers are more than teachers. They run special events in schools and in the Matnasim (Community Centers). Yael, from Kfar Saba, relays that "one of the highlights of my year was the ‘prayer’ series that we built for 1st grade students. We taught five classes in advance of their Kabbalat Siddur celebration, and the grand finale was a parent-child event. At MBS, we had a special puppet-making workshop and we wrote a play that incorporated a puppet show. The children loved the "play-within-a-play" and we had a great time performing!"

This year's MBS volunteers will finish their service in the summer, and we know that they will be sorely missed - not only at MBS. These devoted, hard-working young people have made a real difference in the lives of many Beit Shemesh children, and have contributed hundreds of hours of valuable support and services weekly to the educational system. Most importantly, they remind us that though change is slow, with the investment of much care and effort, many things are possible
For more info on MBS go to http://www.shemesh.co.il/midrasha

This article appeared in ConnectionS - The English Language Magazine of Greater Beit Shemesh



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