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Focus on Volunteering: JDC Jewish Service Corps (JSC) Fellow, Orly Fruchter

July in Jerusalem is hot, sometimes oppressively so, with little respite from the blazing sun; a world apart from Canada's mild summers.  Orly Fruchter took it upon herself to endure the climate and has been volunteering in Israel since October 2012 as an American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) Jewish Service Corps (JSC) fellow from Montreal, Canada. Having studied Psychology at college, she wasn't sure what to do for the year, so applied to be a JDC JSC fellow. Israel wasn't her first choice however; 'I have to admit, my heart dropped a little when I found out' but she says now that 'it couldn't have been better'.  Volunteering in Israel helped her 'see Israel in a totally different way, a whole other light ' and she determinedly avers, 'I have loved everything I have seen!' 

The JSC program gives people like Orly the opportunity to go and serve for one year within an overseas Jewish community where JDC provides life-changing support, or in one of the countries where it operates non-sectarian programs for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. Taking people with experience in particular fields and putting them to work in areas either where they have worked before or where they have a desire to work, the organization 'offers young Jews the opportunity to actively fulfill the value of Jewish responsibility', a sentiment which resonates with Orly. She is one of 25 JDC Jewish Service Corps (JSC) fellows serving around the world in locations including: Argentina, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Israel, Rwanda, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine and more.

When asked how she became involved, Orly responds, 'I never particularly considered working in the field of people with disabilities as an occupation but I had lots of experience growing up.' Orly was involved in the Jewish community from an early age. She participated in Yachad and the Friendship Circle together with her family and promotes the idea of family continuity: the idea that those in the family who have been involved in volunteering in the area, will inspire and have inspired those who come after them to pursue the same path. Orly seems to have taken it one step further.

Orly explains how both her sister and brother volunteered and how when at seminary in Israel, she worked in a kindergarten for children with visual impairments, some of whom had additional other disabilities. Orly worked with the children once a week over the year and saw them improve. 'They develop and see what their ability is, regardless of their impairment.'

Orly had previously been a lifeguard at the Hebrew Academy for Special Children summer camp (HASC), preferring to take a position of specialty staff rather than being a counselor. Describing how this experience allowed her to participate within the workings of the camp, she relates how she has built on this angle, 'From this year, there's a whole new awareness, knowledge, experience of working within the field that I never had before. It also allows me to see a completely different view of it, rather than always being a volunteer and working with them.'

Always thinking prior to arrival that the moment her twelve months were up, 'Not a moment more, not a second extra, I'd be on that plane back', she smiles self-consciously as she reminisces over her initial expectations. In contrast, Orly is extending her time here: 'I love my work; I honestly didn't think it would be as educating and rewarding as it is'.

Orly is keen to give thanks to her supervisor, Tamara Barnea, one of Israel's leading experts on disabilities. ’She is an extremely knowledgeable woman who is always willing and happy to provide guidance and tips that she has learned throughout the years'. She acknowledges her colleagues as 'extremely accomplished, successful and great role models',  adding, 'When I say colleagues, I don’t just mean coworkers and supervisors but I also mean staff from various government offices (ministries of health, education, and public affairs) with whom I have had the opportunity to work. Prominent in their impact on me were various strong players in the field of disabilities who themselves have impairments.'

After spending the year working on project proposals, literature reviews, work orders and organizing meetings, Orly feels that she has improved in her abilities. The knowledge and skills that she acquired through her work on integration of people with disabilities, change in attitudes towards this population and creation of social services is widely applicable in other places, leading to Orly being offered the task of restarting a Yachad chapter in Montreal. 'While working in Israel, I've slowly been learning the ins and outs of the various organizations, services, bureaucracy and politics. Most of my new acquired knowledge related to integration, change in attitudes and creation of social services is applicable in other places as well.' 

Volunteering in Israel has given Orly the opportunity to research the area of disabilities, learning about the special assistance required, various services offered and those not available through the government, and how JDC, through its pioneering programs and services, is helping this population. But most of all, she has seen and come to understand just how independent and driven the disabled can be.



JDC orly fruchter
Orly Fruchter, JDC JSC Fellow