The Jewish community of the greater Chicago region has a wealth of volunteer opportunities, philanthropic events, and other ways to practice the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, close to home. Increasingly, however, people are looking to serve others abroad, where significant work remains to be done to provide communities with the assistance they need to thrive. Luckily, groups like the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) organize educational and philanthropic international trips for Jews across Chicagoland seeking ways to take positive action across the globe.
For many Chicagoans who participate in JUF’s philanthropic efforts, it can be difficult to see what effect their donations have on programs abroad. Those who are interested in seeing their charity dollars at work or who would like to learn more about the myriad problems facing Jewish communities around the world can learn about these things firsthand through JUF Missions. This organization arranges frequent trips to destinations like Israel, Cuba, Morocco, and the Ukraine, all of which involve education and community-building activities that provide a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.
Most JUF missions are designed to bring like-minded Chicagoans together for a trip abroad, though others are organized around the fact-finding efforts of national leaders like Senator Mark Kirk or Congressman Robert Dold, as well as Illinois leaders like Governor Pat Quinn. Past missions have been as large as Israel@60, which brought more than 400 Chicago Jews to Israel in honor of the nation’s 60th anniversary, and as small as missions like Chalutzim in Israel, a trip for adults who have never traveled to Israel. In order to show the organization’s patrons how their funds are used, JUF prioritizes missions for donors. Other missions have included groups like the Young Leadership Division or the JUF Women’s Division.
JUF’s Partnership Together
Meanwhile, JUF members who want to combine their overseas travel with volunteer work can do so through Partnership Together (P2G), an effort led by the Jewish Agency for Israel that pairs Disapora communities with regions in Israel. The Chicago community’s P2G partner is Kiryat Gat-Lachish-Shafir, in the north of Israel’s arid Negev region. Through JUF and P2G, Chicago Jews have numerous opportunities to travel to Israel for volunteer efforts, as well as a chance to host Israelis from the region in Chicago.
Younger participants have enjoyed such programs as Taam Yisrael, which brings 8th graders to the region, and the Diller Teen Fellowship for teens interested in philanthropy and volunteer work. JUF partners like JCC have sent teens to the region through its JCC Camp Chi program, while JUF itself sponsors Kefiada, a summer camp staffed by volunteers for English-speaking campers. Meanwhile, JUF’s adult members have focused their volunteer efforts on education, forging relationships with schools to offer English lessons and cross-cultural interactions.
JDC Service Programs
For those who are interested in supporting Jewish communities outside of Israel, JDC remains one of biggest and most effective Jewish humanitarian aid organizations. JDC oversees projects in more than 70 countries across the globe, focusing on protecting underserved populations and creating the conditions for stronger Jewish communities. Additionally, the organization stands at the forefront of disaster relief efforts around the world.
JDC’s wide range of projects affords Chicagoland Jews the opportunity to serve nearly anywhere in the world, with numerous avenues for getting involved. In its Entwine Global Jewish Service Corps programs, which can be as short as a few weeks or as long as a year, young people help others in places like Argentina, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Israel, and Poland. The organization also arranges a variety of Insider Trips, in which young professionals and college students assist local communities, as well as learn about them. In addition, JDC awards one person per year with its Ralph I. Goldman Fellowship in International Jewish Service, the Jewish philanthropic community’s most prestigious program.
Other Israeli Service Opportunities
Those who are interested in focusing on volunteer efforts within Israel, on the other hand, enjoy a wealth of new options in addition to more traditional trips like Birthright Israel. Chicagoland Jews interested in the kibbutz life can volunteer through WWOOF Israel or Kibbutz Ulpan, both of which offer lodging and meals in Israel in exchange for farming and other work.
Young adults who have yet to find their philanthropic passion will do well to choose Amirim, a summer engagement that provides participants the chance to work directly with a wide variety of nonprofit organizations based in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or Bat Yam. Project TEN, Livnot U’Lehibanot, and Sar-El also offer more traditional volunteer opportunities. Those looking to directly help Israelis most in need, however, often opt to participate in Magen David Adom, Israel’s Ambulance Corps, or volunteer with Lehavot, a volunteer program created by The Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli Fire and Rescue Commission.