How to volunteer in a Kibbutz

Many people dream of going abroad to help those in need or to do development aid in poor countries. Whereas volunteering is usually just about that, working in a Kibbutz in Israel is quite different. Which doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it.

In part two of my three-part-series on volunteering in the holy land (part one was about my personal experiences in Kibbutz Yotvata), I’ll talk about the organization of staying in a Kibbutz and discuss the ethics behind it.

Getting in touch

The process of becoming a volunteer in Israel is different from most other volunteer programs. You usually don’t know where exactly you’re going and what you’re going to do, plus you have to be willing to stay for at least two months (which is exactly the duration of German semester breaks!). If you are not discouraged already, then you can apply at the KPC (Kibbutz Program Center) website. Most people use a middleman for that, but, unless your English is quite bad, it’s unnecessary and it will cost you between €100 and €200.

The KPC will send you some questionnaires via E-Mail, and once you’ve sent them back, you usually get an invitation to Israel (unless your answers implicate that you pose some kind of threat to the country). It’s time to plan your stay!

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Israeli flag with the six-pointed Star of David

Choosing your Kibbutz

First, you should look for flights to Tel Aviv. According to Israeli policy, you’re also going to need a flight out of the country within three months of the entrance date. The reason for that is that your (first) volunteer visa is only valid for three months. If you are planning to stay in Israel for more than that, you have two options: a) book the cheapest flight out of Israel that you can find (in my case, it was €32 for Tel Aviv–>Budapest) or b) book a flexi-ticket that allows you to change the date of the flight.

After your arrival in Tel Aviv, you can either spend a few days getting to know the city or go directly to the KPC-offices in 13, Leonardo de Vinci street. They will ask you to bring about 1800 Schekel (~€420, June 2015) to cover your health insurance (you don’t need an extra foreign health insurance), visa fee and registration (NIS1000) plus security funds (NIS800, that’s money that you keep). Finally, you will find out to which Kibbutz your journey is going to take you. In my case, the KPC-lady asked me if I had a special Kibbutz in mind. I had two, but they both didn’t accept volunteers at the time. So I told her I wanted to go to the south (it was January and freezing cold) and to a socialist Kibbutz with a large group of volunteers. That’s how I ended up in Yotvata.

Once you have chosen your Kibbutz, KPC will advise you how to get there (usually with the next bus). In the meantime, try not to get confused by all the strange hebrew signs: Most information is also available in English and if not – just ask around.

In the Kibbutz

To make sure that you don’t destroy your room and leave the Kibbutz after two days of working, there’s a safe deposit (in my case it was €100) that will be handed out to you after your stay.

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The western wall and the Dome of the Rock – two major sights of Jerusalem

If you prove your worth to the community, the Volunteer-manager will help you to renew your Visa for another three months. This can be done twice, and the costs are about 200 Schekel plus 100 Schekel for every month that you want to stay longer (the information about the prices on the KPC-website is not up to date).

Why (not) volunteer in Israel

Israel is a rich country, it’s lifestyle is comparable to Western European countries like Italy or Spain. Working there will be nothing like feeding homeless people on the streets of India or educating African children that have lost both their parents in civil war. You’ll probably end up as a dishwasher, in the date-harvest or cleaning the premises. If you want your work to make a real difference and your main goal is to help people, don’t come to Israel (unless you want to go to Palestine, but I can’t offer information about that).

Also, there’s the political dilemma. There’s tons of articles out there that explain the difficulty of the Israeli-Palestine situation better than me, so I won’t get into that. But by working in a Kibbutz, you have to be aware that you indirectly support a country that suppresses hundreds of thousands of people based on their religion and provenience.

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Soldiers are not an unusual sight in Israel

Nonetheless, this experience can teach you things that you can’t learn anywhere else. Israel is a fascinating country, a melting pot of plenty of nations founded less than seventy years ago. Within a few hours, you can marvel at the snowcapped peaks of the Golan Heights and the bone-dry heat of the Negev. Tel Aviv is a cosmopolitan city whose nightlife can challenge the best European cities. One hour’s drive away lies Jerusalem, the place that three major religions have fought over for more than a millennium.

Then, there’s the West Bank and Gaza. No matter if you like politics, history, culture or just the social part: you can all find it here. But keep in mind that you’ll probably take away more from the place than you give.

It’s your decision what you want your volunteer-journey to be about.

The website www.grassrootsvolunteers.com has vetted lots of volunteer projects and gives you information about places where your work will help a lot.

Pictures from Israel

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