“And Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them, to let them live; and the princes of the congregation swore unto them.” Joshua 9:15 (The Israel Bible™)
A Jewish Agency for Israel initiative will send 1,000 young Jews from Israel and U.S. college campuses to participate in volunteer work around the world, the agency said Sunday, March 13.
As part of “Project TEN,” launched by the agency three years ago, two new volunteering centers will open in the months to come: in May, in Durban, South Africa and in September in Cusco, Peru. The new centers will offer backpackers the opportunity to incorporate volunteer work into their trekking and tourism.
The two new centers join five already operating in Israel, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Mexico.
According to Avi Mayor, a spokesperson for the Jewish Agency, organizers recognized that engaging in social justice work is an integral part of the Jewish identity of young Jews.
“It is sort of a win-win for the participants themselves to engage in this activity and enhance their Jewish identity as well as their connection with other Jews,” Mayor told Tazpit Press Service (TPS). He added that “it is a win for the local community who benefit from their volunteerism, and it is a win for the Jewish people who end up with a cadre of young Jews who are fortified in both their Jewish identity and their universal values.”
The project, dubbed “the Jewish Peace Corps” after the U.S. government program, currently offers volunteers the chance to assist local communities in Ghana. There, project participants run educational centers in which children from the town of Winneba are taught in mobile computer labs. Additionally, Project TEN volunteers assist in areas struck by natural disasters such as Oaxaca, Mexico.
“I think a lot of Jews are not aware of these volunteer opportunities. Many choose things like Teach for America or a range of other opportunities available to young Jews. We think this is a way to enable them to engage in the volunteer work in a Jewish environment,” Mayor said.
Leron Goldring, an American Jew from New York who volunteered in Mexico over the summer, also recounted for TPS her experiences of volunteering to teach children English in an underprivileged school.
“It took me back to my roots. Apart from all the volunteering, we also did Shabbat. We were in the middle of the Mexican jungle where most people don’t even know what a Jew is and yet we still did Shabbat. We also learned about what Judaism says about helping the world. So when you connect social justice with Judaism, it is more attractive. It was also a great opportunity to connect with Israelis, too,” Goldring said.