by Robin B. Zeiger
On a recent Sunday afternoon, I was treated to a special occasion; a picnic in the Bet Shemesh forest with a unique group of volunteers in Israel. Twenty-six Jewish young adults, ages 20-25, from all over the United States are beginning a 10-month stint of volunteerism with Project OTZMA, a joint program of the Israel Forum and the North American Jewish Federations, represented by the United Jewish Communities, in cooperation with the Department for Jewish/Zionist Education of the Jewish Agency. Since its inception in 1986, over 1000 young adults representing Jewish communities of the across North America have participated in this unique opportunity to serve Israel and the Jewish people. Upon their return to North America, participants are expected to serve their Jewish community in a volunteer or professional capacity.
At this picnic, I met two of our very own Richmonders, Whitney Frost and Madelene Shnur, who have been assigned to volunteer in their sister region of Emek Hefer. Both are college graduates. Both are young ladies with strong ties to Richmond and to the United States. And both are individuals clearly headed in an exciting direction.
Modern day society is often focused on quickly advancing one's career path and making strides in financial security. Who are these young ladies? And why would they take out valuable time out from their career path to come here and volunteer for almost a year? With smiles and enthusiasm, Whitney and Madeleine explained their interest and passion in this program.
Whitney, is a recent graduate of High Point University in North Carolina. She majored in business and marketing and is not quite sure what she wants to do with her degree. She looks forward to a year of getting to know herself and stretch her potential, while volunteering in Israel.
Whitney grew up in Richmond in a family with strong ties to the Jewish community. She attended Rudlin Torah through 3rd grade and has a solid foundation of Judaism. Her father is a successful podiatrist in a busy practice. Her mother, Fern, is a former school teacher and now is a Weight Watchers instructor. Her family is active at Congregation Beth El. Whitney's parents are accompanying Rabbi Creditor on a synagogue trip to Israel in December. For the Frosts, this is their first trip.
Whitney has a connection to Emek Hefer since she was a teen. She participated in Maccabi in 2003, while in high school. She met our very own Jacquie Mohar from Emek Hefer and stayed in touch with the Emek Hefer folks. At the age of 17, she came to Israel with a USY trip. Because of the Emek Hefer connection she stayed with an Emek Hefer family for a weekend. She remembers with fondness her time in Emek Hefer in which she milked a cow and rode a horse. Whitney explains she learned about Project OTZMA from Rabbi Creditor's daughter, Tzeira, now a native Israeli. Tzeira had participated in OTZMA several years ago and liked the experience very much. Thus, Whitney became intrigued.
Madeleine, in contrast, "fell" into the OTZMA program. She is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, having majored in psychology. In fact, Madeleine has learned five languages in addition to English. This includes Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew, French and Galician. She has studied and visited abroad in Spain, Brazil, Switzerland, and France.
Madeleine was introduced to the OTZMA program by her Hillel Rabbi. She interviewed to be accepted and quickly decided it offered a perfect option for this year, allowing her time for community service as well as perfecting her Hebrew language skills. While at UPenn, Madeleine volunteered in North Philly with a lower income group of Latino children in a program called Values through Arts & Sports. She loved working with this population and felt she really made a difference. Thus, she is also excited to be able to volunteer here.
Madeleine also grew up in an involved Richmond family. Her father is lawyer. her mother is a community volunteer. Her family belongs to Congregation Or Atid
During their stay, Whitney and Madeleine will spend part of their time touring, part of their time learning intensive Hebrew in an Ulpan in Asquelon, and part of their time volunteering in Emek Hefer. While volunteering, they will be living at the Youth Village in.
I did not have the opportunity to participate in a program such as OTZMA. Thus, I am a little jealous. Yet, I am excited to be following their adventures. I will keep you posted.