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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Good deeds go forth from Israel

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis volunteered for Good Deeds Day throughout Israel as part of what has now become a global initiative.

Photo by Sivan Farag
Rafi Elul, chairman of Ruach Tova; Shari Arison; and Mayor Nir Barkat preparing to plant a new garden outside a rundown Jerusalem apartment house.
When philanthropist Shari Arison arrives in a T-shirt and jeans to help plant a garden behind his tumbledown Jerusalem apartment building, a young Israeli father named Avner looks on with wonder. He and his baby daughter Adi are each wearing the same T-shirt as the billionaire Arison, which reads simply, "Doing Good."

It's the sixth annual Good Deeds Day, a global community volunteering initiative spearheaded by the Arison Group and operated by Ruach Tova (Good Spirit), an affiliated NGO founded in 2004 to encourage volunteering in Israel by building a database matching do-gooders with 3,200 organizations and thousands of volunteering projects in Israel.

"Today is the big day, and we are very excited. It's unbelievable to see people clearing out the garbage -- really amazing," says Avner, who's lived at 59 Stern Street in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood for two years. "All the neighbors met and decided to help those who are coming to help us, and we are giving them coffee and cookies."

Some 250,000 Israelis donned Doing Good shirts on March 20, and 10,000 more participated in International Good Deeds Day on March 25 in the Western and Eastern hemispheres.

"From the very beginning I wanted it to be international," Arison tells ISRAEL21c as she wields a hoe in Avner's backyard. "I always say ‘ki mitzion tetzeh Torah,' that goodness should come out of Israel and we should be ‘a light unto the nations.' I really believe it all has to start in Israel, especially here in Jerusalem, to be an example to the whole world."

Everyone can do something good

This year, 163 Israeli municipalities partnered with Ruach Tova on Good Deeds Day, 62 of which are in the Israeli-Arab sector. In addition, 76 schools ran projects for their communities and hundreds more held special activities related to Good Deeds Day. Thousands of soldiers also pitched in to volunteer.

Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman
Good Deeds Day banner

"We want to show how everyone can do something good," says Kaynan Rabino, CEO of Ruach Tova. "We have over 3,500 projects around Israel today. In Jerusalem alone, 10,000 volunteers are working at 182 sites."

In some areas, volunteers planted or played with children at risk or with the elderly, or gathered trash from beaches. In other areas, like Kiryat Yovel, the goal is to provide momentum for ongoing improvement efforts.

"On Stern Street, most of the population is new immigrants and old people," says Rabino. "The buildings are a little tired, a little dirty, and need uplifting. For those who live here, it's hard to kick-start a project on their own, so we bring hundreds of volunteers -- 700 all over the street. There are 200 students from two high schools and 300 soldiers this morning, and this afternoon, members of the youth movements Bnai Akiva and Tzofim [Scouts] will come."

The young volunteers, working side by side with residents, immediately get to work inside and out, scraping peeling walls, removing debris, clearing foliage, painting railings.

"We hope all of this will help the residents to take care of it themselves," says Rabino. "Last year we did two houses here and the whole community then took responsibility, so we know it works. It's about stronger communities helping weaker communities."

More and more people are connecting

Ruach Tova forged a connection with MTV-Europe, which will allow Good Deeds Day volunteers to upload videos of their projects in action.

In the United States, the organization partnered with about a dozen Jewish federations to plan March 25 events, the largest of which involved 1,000 volunteers in Washington, DC. Good Deeds Day has also spread to Switzerland, Singapore, Mexico and Panama courtesy of Bank Hapoalim, Israel's largest bank and a portfolio company of Arison Holdings.

"Every year we involve more communities," says Rabino.

In addition to Kiryat Yovel, Arison participated in a Good Deeds Day "Peace Tournament" in the Juarish neighborhood of Ramla, where police officers challenged local Jewish and Arab children to a soccer match. It was one of 197 Good Deeds Day projects in this mixed working class city. Later, the kids worked together to paint a wall that separates their neighborhoods, and planted olive trees.

Photo by Sivan Farag
Shari Arison with Arab and Jewish teens in Ramla.

Under the banner of Good Deeds Day in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, passersby were able to donate blood; sign up for organ donation; have a free hair cut to donate to a maker of wigs for women with cancer; and purchase goods sold by non-profit organizations -- all to the sounds of the Street Philharmonic Orchestra. This was one of 260 Good Deeds Day events in Tel Aviv.

"My vision was for it to be global, and I hoped more and more people would connect," says Arison, "and it's happening."

Source: Israel21c