The year 2020 will forever be a watershed moment. Living through a pandemic has changed the world and has caused many of us to re-examine our values and priorities. After months of isolation and disruption, people are seeking communal ties and interpersonal connections. Along with this shift has come a renewed commitment to volunteerism and working towards a common good.
This commitment to giving back and building communal ties through volunteering are at the heart of Kedma’s mission. Nearly 25 years ago, Rabbi Maury Kelman started Kedma, an Israel-based, non-profit that runs volunteer initiatives worldwide, with the goal of integrating American kids into Israeli society through volunteering. The early Kedma years were marked by shabbatonim with new Ethiopian olim and joint blood drives with Magen David Adom, among other innovative programs. Before the days of social media, WhatsApp and 24/7 (or 24/6) engagement by the internet, seminary and yeshiva students connected to Israeli society and each other through the in-person volunteer opportunities provided by Kedma programming.
As much as things change, they also stay the same. Throughout the coronavirus, Kedma has worked with hundreds of gap-year students and has enabled them to volunteer and make a difference within Israeli society both through corona-safe, in-person volunteering and via their remote volunteer initiatives. Notwithstanding the challenges of COVID-19, Kedma students worked with kids from at-risk homes, packed food for the needy, volunteered at women’s shelters and tutored new immigrants in Israel and the U.S. remotely. These students and their schools committed to Kedma’s Volunteer Program because they recognized that their contribution to society was more critical during the pandemic than ever before. By giving back during tough times, these students infused a new level of meaning within their gap year and fostered a greater connection to Israeli society.
The importance of Kedma students’ involvement in Israeli society over this past year led to the launch of our newest program, “Marking Milestones.” Through Marking Milestones, we are bringing the gap-year programs’ breadth of volunteer placements and opportunities to connect to Israeli society—to families and individuals. We are interested in elevating milestone events by integrating volunteering (both in person and remotely) into celebrations by connecting people all over the world to our robust network of non-profit organizations throughout Israel that work with all segments of society. These connections make a difference in Israeli society, and also impact the individuals celebrating the milestone and added meaning to their celebrations. After months on end of quarantine, sickness and isolation, it is critical to both celebrate the good times and strengthen our communities. In our post-coronavirus world, Marking Milestones recognizes these imperatives and connects them seamlessly. Join us as we celebrate, make a difference, and strengthen our ties to each other.
Orit Barnea Seif is the director of Kedma.