Yael Cooper, daughter of Aileen and Pace Cooper, is a senior at the Goldie Margolin School for Girls. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided her with a Teen Israel Experience grant to offset the costs of her NCSY/GIVE (Girls Israel Volunteer Experience) program in Israel. All rising juniors and seniors are eligible for grants of up to $3,000 to attend a recognized teen summer or semester program in Israel. Teen Israel Experience applications for Summer 2022 are open and can be accessed by clicking here.
By Yael Cooper
What an amazing summer I had with NCSY/Girls Israel Volunteer Experience (GIVE)!
Not only did I have the opportunity to meet and make amazing new friends from all over the United States and Canada, but I traveled across Israel while doing chesed (volunteering) almost every day of my five-week trip.
In Israel, I had the opportunity to give back to the land and people of Israel. When I traveled to Israel with my parents in the past, it was mostly for smachot (happy family occasions), and I mostly visited only Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This summer, I was able to see more of Israel and go to many sites I have learned about in Chumash (Bible) classes at the Margolin Hebrew Academy. Some of the new places I visited were Tzfat, Efrat, Mearat Hamachpela (Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs), Hebron, Ein Gedi, Masada, and Eilat. Each day at GIVE I woke up to davening (prayers) and daily learning, constant touring with integrated chesed projects, and each evening, there were fun night activities.
There was a truly wonderful mix of volunteer experiences, such as working on a kibbutz and painting a school. I volunteered at so many diverse places including a soup kitchen, a hospital where I was able to help with medical clowning, spent time with underprivileged children, packed food at pantry packers, and made a carnival and danced with handicapped and disabled children.
I loved working with the people that live in Israel and physically working the land, and I especially enjoyed writing letters and packing treats for lone soldiers. My favorite chesed activity was making a three-day camp for siblings of children who have cancer. It provided these children a chance to escape their family’s trying challenges. Their parents were so appreciative as they are consistently short of time to spend with their healthy children because they must focus on the children with cancer who are in treatment programs. I loved watching the children smile and enjoyed creating fun projects to make their summer more uplifting. I also had a blast planning a Bat Mitzvah for seven girls who had simply never had one. Planning included decorating a facility, doing the girls’ hair and makeup, dancing, and celebrating with each of them. Seeing the girls so thrilled at experiencing their Bat Mitzvah made all the effort worthwhile.
The summer included plenty of time to have fun with my new GIVE friends. Going to the De Karina chocolate factory, swimming in the Dead Sea, visiting the Kotel, swimming at Aqua Kef water park on the Kinneret, competing in a basketball game of GIVE versus Michlelet (another NCSY program), and eating in the Shuk market are just a few of those special activities. I also enjoyed climbing Masada, sleeping in a Bedouin tent, even though it was exceptionally hot, and going on a salad trail where I was able to discover and taste the agriculture in the Negev desert. I made real connections with the people I helped in my chesed activities, my GIVE friends, and the land of Israel. I am inspired by opportunities to share chesed and there is nothing better than giving back by helping those in need in Israel.
This summer was a wonderful hands-on experience with the people who live in Israel and my experience this summer motivates me to enthusiastically commit to going back to Israel next year for a gap year after high school.
I appreciate Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for helping to make my NCSY/ GIVE Israel summer experience possible.