Torah is Life: Strengthening Israel’s Periphery Through Torah and Tikkun Olam
“Here, we learn that Torah is life,” said Danielle Cohen, describing her year at Midreshet Lindenbaum’s Matat branch in the Galilean city of Carmiel. “We need to serve Hashem in all aspects of our lives – and that includes being integrally involved in making our communities better places.”
Cohen’s words are strengthened by Maya Ayal, a student in Midreshet Lindenbaum’s Lod branch: “Torah learning is a privilege,” she stated. “Volunteering connects our learning to real life and enables us to translate what we learn into helping people in the community.”
Indeed, amidst an intensive schedule of Torah learning that includes study of text and philosophy in classroom, individual and paired learning formats, the curricula in both Carmiel and Lod places tremendous emphasis on community involvement as a central Jewish value and an integral part of improving oneself.
Throughout the pandemic, and during a school year that began in the shadow of strict health regulations, this value nonetheless remained paramount. Both seminaries found ways to connect students with the local community that were safe for students and residents, alike, gradually adjusting volunteer projects as health regulations relaxed.
This year, as they do every year, students participated in a combination of weekly group and individual volunteer projects. Group projects included food packaging and distribution for needy community members and sorting clothing in a second hand shop, as well as holiday programs, such as Chanukah candle lighting outdoors with older adults. As individuals or in smaller groups, students visited isolated elderly, tutored new immigrant children, helped those with special needs, and did housework for families with children battling major illnesses. They knew they were making a difference while integrating the Torah they were learning into their daily lives.
Making a Meaningful Difference
“Volunteerism is an integral part of our learning experience; it’s part and parcel of our year of Jewish growth,” attested Matat student Bar Moskell from Raanana.
Each week, Moskell meets with three girls in a family that recently made Aliyah from Argentina, helping improve their Hebrew and complete homework assignments, and just spending time with them. “At the beginning, we met outside and, after I was vaccinated, we met in the house with masks on,” she related. “After meeting with them every week for several months, I really see the difference in their Hebrew ability and success in school.”
Her classmate Cohen volunteers with one of the local senior residents. “I visit with her, talk with her about her life,” Cohen said. “Sometimes we go on walks. I often stop by on Shabbat to make sure she’s ok. My visits help her feel that she’s not alone, but they also help me feel part of the community.”
Midreshet Lindenbaum-Lod’s Ayal added: “One of the cornerstones of our midrasha is to be part of the local community,” she said. “That’s why we continued to do everything we can during the pandemic, like delivering food to needy families or running outdoor programs in the community during holidays. Today, my friends and I are all continuing with our weekly volunteer projects– visiting the elderly, helping families and children with special needs, tutoring local high school students, working in the community garden.”
Moskell summarized: “We have learned to take the Torah that we are learning into the practical realm of our daily lives, and I know that what we do really makes a difference to the people here.”