April 21, 2024
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Bnei Akiva’s MTVA Students Volunteer Across Israel

(Courtesy of Bnei Akiva) Since shortly after Oct. 7, Gila Klibanoff, a Livingston native, has spent much of her time babysitting for an Israeli family in Jerusalem. The family has six kids ages 4-12, and Klibanoff often takes care of them, teaching English and playing games to lighten their mother’s load while her husband is in the reserves.

“It’s amazing to be able to help at this time, and it’s been so meaningful both for us and for them,” said Klibanoff.

Klibanoff is a student at Midreshet Torah v’Avodah (MTVA), an innovative midrasha for highly motivated high school graduates that offers students a year of learning at a high level, meaningful service opportunities, and immersive experiences across Israel while nurturing leadership skills, strong relationships and a deep connection to both the land and people of Israel.

In a year unlike any other, MTVA students have jumped into supporting individuals and families impacted by the war in Israel, providing babysitting services, volunteering 650 hours in hospitals, packing more than 6,000 care packages for Israeli soldiers, creating carnivals for children, working in the fields and picking 15,000 fruits and vegetables, and ultimately supporting approximately 3,000 evacuees.

According to Michal Jacob, mashgicha ruchanit at MTVA, the students’ tireless efforts to support Israel during the war are a natural progression of their studies. “What makes us really unique is that in conjunction with our learning, we feel it’s important to experience Israel in a very integrated way — and this year we simply ramped up our efforts. What changed after the war was that we focused on our responsibility within Am Yisrael. The students didn’t just ask how am I going to change? But they’re asking, how am I going to grow within our community while giving back to our community?”

One of the first initiatives that the students launched was a carnival for children to bring happiness and stability during a time of distress and chaos while their fathers and other family members were being called up to reserves. “We walked in with this mindset of ‘we’re here and we need to help,’” said Rebecca Silber, an MTVA student from Scarsdale, New York. “We feel like we’re part of something greater and we have an opportunity to bring some light and happiness during a dark time.”

During the last week of December, Layla Appel, a college student and MTVA alumna from Woodmere, New York, returned to Israel for Recharge, an MTVA alumni program for continued learning and Israel experiences. In just five days, Appel, alongside other students and alumni, traveled across Israel with MTVA, creating a carnival for displaced children; hosting a barbecue for soldiers among other volunteer activities; bearing witness to the Oct. 7 massacres with visits to the site of the Nova festival and different communities in Otef Aza; gaining skills for combating antisemitism on college campuses; and delving into Torah studies.

“MTVA gave us a great love of Israel. And I felt helpless just sitting in America. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to come to Israel and see how Israel is right now, and to see how we can change ourselves by helping the broader community,” said Appel.

The opportunity to help during this critical time for Israel and the Jewish people is something that Silber has appreciated. “If you’re a Jew, you’re responsible for each other. And seeing how everyone in Israel has a burning desire to help is something I haven’t found anywhere else. It just made me so appreciative to be part of the Jewish people on another level,” she said.

Klibanoff plans to stay in Israel following the MTVA program. “Now more than ever I feel like I need to be here,” she said. “This is where the Jewish people are. This is the place where I can help my family, and this is where our future is.”

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