28 February 2010

My journey to Israel, to Kiryat Moshe and back to Toronto and Hoops!

Written by: Melissa Grosser

In May 2008, I finally took the plunge to travel far and to get in touch with my roots: I went on Birthright! After years of hearing how wonderful the trip was, I made it a point to be a participant on this trip. With one of my best friends and over twenty-five strangers, I flew away from my life in Toronto to embark on a trip of a lifetime.

After ten hours of flying, our group landed in Israel. Although I felt tired, I stepped off the plane and was immediately energized by all of the excitement around me. Having never been to the holy land before, I was even ecstatic walking through the pathways of the Ben Gurion airport.

Once our baggage was collected, my group and I were bussed to our first location of touring. Once the tour finished, my friends and I took some down time to relax, eat some great Israeli ice cream and take in the sights. At this point, my trip leader Dave Goodman was telling me that one of the key ingredients that will make this trip memorable was our group’s charity project in Kiryat Moshe. This community happened to be the focus of Hoops 4 Israel’s charitable plans. As I heard this, I thought “I am here to experience Israel and all of its beauty. It would be great to make a difference and give back to their communities.”

After several days of touring, my group and I arrived in Kiryat Moshe. As our bus stopped, I looked out the window and saw at least two sports courts, a few buildings and tons of Ethiopian Jewish children joyously playing sports and outdoor games.

The afternoon was spent playing basketball and soccer with the children and helping them to make “cheer” packages for the Israeli soldiers. While helping a little boy make a package, I noticed he would draw pictures of soldiers and put little hearts and stars next to them. Although there was a language gap between the two of us, it amazed me how this little boy and the other children would express how grateful they are for the army’s service to Israel.

When the afternoon had ended and our group headed back to the bus, I was sad to leave but was so happy to have spent the time with these children and to see how Hoops 4 Israel has changed the lives of these children.

As a child, I participated in sports and dance because I loved the activity, the social aspect, the involvement and as much as I don’t like to admit it, it introduced me to the concept of discipline and hard work. I couldn’t imagine my childhood without these activities; I am so glad that the children in Kiryat Moshe don’t have to either.

Since returning from my Birthright trip, I have been active in volunteering with Hoops 4 Israel and never intend to stop. Seeing the difference that Hoops has made for this community and for these children is incredible. Although I am a tiny piece of a huge puzzle of volunteers, it warms my heart to bring joy to these children through fun activities such as sports, art and dance classes and other educational programs. After seeing it firsthand, I remembered how much I took my childhood activities for granted and am glad to help provide these children with the same opportunities. The fact that I am helping to make change means a lot.

02 February 2010

Volunteer Perspectives...

Joshua Lerner, H4I Volunteer since 2007

"Getting involved with Hoops 4 Israel is one of the best things I have ever done. I always have liked to get involved in the community but found in my post-university years that it was difficult to find a cause where I could play an active role and make a difference. When you are in school, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved, but as you enter the working world, these opportunities and time for them seem to diminish. I found myself lacking an outlet. Then I heard about Hoops 4 Israel.

There are so many things about Hoops 4 Israel that I love. It is a wonderful mixture of 2 things in life that are very important to me - the State of Israel and the game of basketball. Finding a way to help the former with the latter is ideal. This perfect blend really helps me creatively think of ways to improve the tournament. I also like that I can choose how much of a contribution I can make the tournament. I have found in years past that the more I put in to the organization of the event, the more satisfaction I feel when I realize the success of it.

This is a great opportunity for anyone looking to get involved in the community. Not only will you feel a sense of accomplishment, you will develop and sharpen skills that will help you in whatever other pursuits you may have, all while meeting a dynamic mix of interesting people. The experience has been invaluable to my personal and professional development and I wholeheartedly recommend it."

Em Goodman, H4I Volunteer since 2007

"Hoops 4 Israel uses basketball as a channel for a improving the lives of youth in the Kiryat Moshe, a place that I refer to as the ‘ghetto’ of Israel. It has developed into international outreach program where both men and women compete in a day-long basketball tournament raising sufficient funds to build basketball courts and other sport facilities for the community of Kiryat Moshe.

Hoops 4 Israel’s goal is to transgress the racial boundaries of the Ethiopian Jews living in Kiryat Moshe and integrate them into Israeli society. I have volunteered at the event since it started 3 years ago, and I always find it touching and inspiring to see how Hoops 4 Israel has changed the lives of the youth by motivating them to get involved with their community. It was amazing to actually meet some of the kids of Kiryat Moshe and truly see how these impoverished youth have become inspired themselves and realize that they can grow up to be an important part of society and accomplish their own realistic goals.

It is very easy to get caught up in the trivial day-to-day events in our North American lifestyle and I usually don’t have time to volunteer – I would prefer to just give money. However, onHoops 4 Israel tournament day, it makes you feel really good knowing that you have helped to foster development in Israel and made a difference in peoples lives.

I hope Hoops 4 Israel can grow to other North American cities with large jewish populations because it is truly an amazing way for everyone to get involved and have some fun!"

Carly Baker, H4I Volunteer since 2009

What aspects of the project are most appealing to you:

"I find hoops most appealing because it allows me to participate in a favorite past time of mine, basketball, as well as enabling me to find a way to help others. I find that hoops poses a unique opportunity for young professionals to get involved and help people thousands of miles away. I think hoops is a great cause because it targets a community within Israel that be overlooked by other fundraising or charitable organizations."

How you would like to better contribute to its success down the line:

"I think down the line I can have more success harvesting the girls side of the tournament. Due to outlying circumstances this year, I found it difficult to get girls involved. However in the future I think I will be able to spark interest and bring more girls to the tournament. Obviously as well, once the economy begins to improve I think I could bring in more corporate sponsors."

More volunteer perspectives to come...