A quest to recruit volunteers
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A quest to recruit volunteers

George Iversen is trying to raise volunteers for Israel. No, not money. Volunteers.

After his first trip to Israel five years ago, when he volunteered at an army base, the South Orange resident was hooked on the idea of giving his time to the Jewish state. Two years ago, he discovered Ruach Tova – a philanthropically sponsored service that matches volunteers with volunteer opportunities throughout Israel – when he organized a volunteer mission to Sderot.

“After I got back, I decided to set up American Friends of Ruach Tova,” said Iversen, 60. “It was pointed out to me afterward that ‘American Friends’ usually means you’re trying to raise money. But we’re just trying to raise volunteers.”

One of the opportunities Iversen is helping to publicize is the Rights for Survivors Project.

This project needs people to visit Holocaust survivors and help them apply for various new legal rights and benefits. Fluency in Hebrew, Yiddish, and/or an East European language is required.

Adi Liran, the international volunteer coordinator of Ruach Tova, said 5,000 survivors have applied for help with the forms and only 10 percent have so far received it. Volunteers have to attend two training sessions and commit to making 10 visits or answer calls on a help line. “This is for people who going to be here at least two months,” she said.

For shorter-term visitors, the Website offers a wide range of volunteer ideas for different interests and age groups. Liran said she is working to have the site linked to the Websites of American Jewish federations, including UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

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From left are Adi Liran, volunteer coordinator of Ruach Tova, its chairman, Rafi Elul, and George Iversen. Janet Iversen

“With Ruach Tova, if you’re going to Israel and you have a day or two and want to volunteer, they can help you find a place to do that,” said Iversen, who has since been back to Sderot with his wife, Janet.

Last year, he volunteered at two locations he wouldn’t have known about without Ruach Tova. One was the Association for the Blind in Ramat Gan, which runs a workshop that employs the blind and legally blind – and some people who can neither see nor hear – in assembling goods such as faucets. The workshop welcomes volunteers “to help keep the place neat and cheerful and to help assemble faucets so that they may meet their monthly quota,” said Iversen.

He also volunteered at the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled, where he helped disabled children in swimming, tennis, basketball, and other rehabilitative activities.

“I’m taking my son and his girlfriend to Israel at the beginning of March and it will be their first time there, so we’ll tour for two weeks and then will go to volunteer in Sderot for a week,” he said.

Iversen, who owned a chain of video stores in Essex County and now works for the surrogate’s office, said people can easily fit a day or two of volunteering into their itineraries without sacrificing sight-seeing or family time. Volunteering, he added, gives visitors a glimpse of life that they cannot gain at a hotel or tourist venue.

As a Reform Jew, Iversen likes the fact that volunteer activities bring together different types of Jews.

“There are enough things that divide us,” he said. “It would be really nice if people felt a personal connection with someone outside of a tourist venue. It builds a stronger relationship between the two countries if people have that connection.”

For information, call Iversen at (866)-624-1853, e-mail george.iversen@israelvolunteer.org, or e-mail Liran at adi@ruachtova.org.il.

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