July 4, 2004, Updated September 13, 2012

Milah capitalizes on Israelis’ adventuring spirit by turning average tourists into humanitarian volunteers for helping children in need in villages and cities around the world. Thousands of young Israelis go traveling the world each year – backpackers, vacationers, and explorers in far flung places of the globe. Now a new non-profit organization called Milah is enabling them to not only enjoy themselves, but to work with the local populations in helping children, working social projects for the underprivileged, work in schools, and do scores of other humanitarian projects that will provide Israeli expertise to people around the world in need.

“We think that it’s time for Israel to have an NGO that’s an international humanitarian organization that aids the world,” Cigal Bar Tal, Milah’s executive director, told ISRAEL21c. “We’re not talking about the fields of agriculture or medicine where there are plenty of programs – we’re talking about the social field. We believe this is the future of this society in Israel and the society in the rest of the world.”

To those ends, Milah has set up an office, database, and international contacts to enable travelers to participate in volunteer projects throughout the world, many of which will provide housing, living stipends, and even free airplane tickets.

Milah (Israeli Volunteers for the Sake of the Children) capitalizes on Israelis’ adventuring spirit by turning average tourists into humanitarian volunteers for helping children in need in villages and cities around the world. Israeli travelers offer a unique window of opportunity to herald goodwill from Israel abroad. With their humanitarian actions and social service commitments, these tourists will improve upon Israel’s reputation within the international community; in turn, presenting the international community with new words or promises to describe Israel, its actions and its citizens.

“Over 50,000 Israelis leave the country every year to travel – why shouldn’t we give them the option to do some humanitarian work?” said Bar Tal. ” When they travel, they want to experience the local atmosphere, to get to know the people, to live the life of a villager. This will give them that opportunity – and not just staying among themselves. If they’re going anyway, let’s give them the added value for the trip. Besides seeing an exotic country, they’ll get experiences, adventure and will be helping the local community.”

Not just throwing the travelers off a cliff into an unknown culture, Bar Tal says that Milah will provide full instruction for participants before they leave.

“We’ll train them here, concerning the culture and the sensitivities of the region they’ll be working in. During the time they’ll be volunteering – whether it be a month or a year – we’ll have representative who will be their address for everything they might need,” she said.

Whereas youngsters in many countries may not have the emotional maturity or experience to spend a significant amount of time abroad and prove useful to a needy community, Israeli youth have an advantage, said Bar Tal.

“Young Israeli travelers are not really non-professionals. Most have served three years in the Army and were in youth momvents. They’ve had leadership training, so they’re not coming into this without any knowledge.”

Anat Har-Lev, who works in a youth volunteer program at Oranim College near Haifa, was one of the first applicants to Milah.

“I feel that it’s a worthwhile project that has never been attempted before. And I feel that I can give lots of experience to something like this from my time as a youth volunteer.

Har-Lev expressed desire to go to India but said the destination wasn’t as important as the goal. “There are many good aspects to Israel, especially the Israeli people. And it’s important that not everything comes from the government, that something like this comes directly from the people.”

Anat Eisig, Milah Development Officer, was herself was a backpacker who wanted to volunteer while in India six years ago. She couldn’t find any Israeli programs to assist her and ended up making her own arrangements. She told The Jerusalem Post that the goal is to make the concept a fashion for Israeli youth.

” Israel’s quite a fashion-oriented country,” she said. Right now, the trend is: “you finish the army, you travel, you finish traveling, you go to university. Now when you go traveling, you’ll go volunteering. That’s Milah’s aim.”

Bar Tal is confident that other Israeli travelers will see the value of Milah, and the benefit in the end will not only be to the recipient country, but to the volunteers and Israel itself.

“We believe that volunteerism is a method ? Israelis are realizing that volunteering is a good thing – it helps Israel in the long run, because they’re going to come back from their experience and volunteer in Israel.”

Milah’s umbrella organization, Topaz, runs a variety of international projects to help at-risk youth. Topaz, the International Association for the Advancement and Empowerment of Children and Youth, is an independent Israeli, non-profit organization founded in 2000 to improve the quality of life of children and youth, their families and their communities around the world. Topaz aims to provide at-risk youth and their communities with the tools to bridge social gaps, overcome developmental limitations, and conquer difficult situations of crisis and distress.

“We believe it’s time for Israel to give back the knowledge we’ve acquired in these fields,” said Bar Tal. We’re good at giving weapons, and providing security, but we’re not very good at giving social aid. It’s important for Israel society to have an organization that’s operating internationally. Every developed country has such an international development organization, it’s one of the characteristics of a democracy. This will show we have a civil society and will improve our image around the world.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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