by Jeffrey Barken, JNS.org, August 6, 2012
Volunteering continues to be a cheap way for foreigners to travel and experience Israel. On average, participants pay only $610 to register and arrange for a three-month visa, room and board, and health insurance. While on assignment, volunteers earn a small stipend of 500 shekels or more, based on the local costs of living. Volunteers who wish to stay longer can easily renew their visa and healthcare for an additional $80, and can stay in Israel for a maximum of nine months. “Volunteers are great for the youngsters living on a kibbutz,” Deakin adds to the list of benefits. “They open up a typically closed society and enable personal diplomacy.”
The program is a system in which everyone wins. Nevertheless, it has been difficult to rebuild the volunteer presence to the levels achieved in the 70s. This is primarily because of new immigration and work-status restrictions imposed by the government and reluctance on the part of many kibbutzim to reengage the program. “In the past, things were more open,” Sagi laments. New regulations initiated in 2010 limit the age of volunteers to 35 or below, require volunteers to pay for the program prior to arriving in Israel, and shorten the time they are allowed to stay in the country.
Sometimes it is hard to place volunteers on kibbutzim. Only 10 percent of Israel’s kibbutzim are now participating in the program, and according to Deakin, volunteers may be cheap, but they are not always the ideal work force. “It’s a question of commitment,” he says. “Only occasionally do volunteers really work.” When Deakin attempted to restart Kibbutz Dorot’s volunteer program in 2009, he began by accepting many volunteers but has gradually discontinued his involvement with the program. Teaching a new staff to perform agricultural work every three months was a tedious process and a drain on resources.