It was when Ayelet Cohen had her hands deep in the mud at Nahal HaMoreh Park in Afula, dedicated in memory of Eyal Yifrach, Yaakov Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar, the three Israeli teens murdered by terrorists in 2014, that she says she realized what chesed is really all about.
“When you volunteer, you know you are doing something helpful, but you don’t necessarily get to see [the impact] of your actions,” she says. “But then you realize that you were there, and you did something, and that’s what matters.”
Nahal HaMoreh Park was just one of the many places where Ayelet volunteered during her five weeks on GIVE, the NCSY summer program designed for teens who want to give back to the land and people of Israel. And while she mentions picking vegetables for the poor at Leket, building walkers at Yad Sarah, and dancing with disabled children at Shalva as some of the trip highlights, the 16-year-old from Evanston, IL, says: “It was all a highlight.”
“I know everyone says that, but there was nothing I didn’t love about GIVE. You get to go all over Israel and do all kinds of chesed, and it was a really cool experience.”
Although Ayelet, a junior at Ida Crown Hebrew Academy and a long-time NCSYer, came on GIVE knowing just one staff member, she says her bus quickly “became like one unit” and she made friends that will last a lifetime. She also appreciated the opportunity to learn from her advisors, whom she credits with bringing a fresh perspective to so many things.
Most importantly, says Ayelet, GIVE helped her grow as a person, and as a Jew. First, it made her more appreciative of many things she had taken for granted.
“When you work with a blind person, you appreciate that you can wake up and see,” she says. “And when you work with the disabled, you realize how lucky you are that you don’t need a wheelchair, and that you can walk wherever you need to go.”
The program, true to its name, also ignited Ayelet’s passion for giving. She says she’d like to start working with disabled children at Yachad, and she wants to bring new chesed ideas to her school and possibly start a chesed club.
Most of all, Ayelet says, the trip strengthened her connection to Judaism.
Ayelet adds that while all NCSY summer programs are a great way to spend the summer, GIVE is about so much more.
“You don’t just go touring and have fun. You feel accomplished. You make a difference,” she says. “And you to realize that when you help others, it makes you feel good about yourself, so just imagine the people you are affecting, how good they must feel when they get what they need.”
Captions: (Top) Ayelet, right, with a fellow GIVE volunteer at Nahal HaMoreh Park in Afula. (Middle) Ayelet, third from left, with “friends for life” from GIVE. (Bottom) Ayelet, left, with GIVE participants at the Kotel.