By D. Bender
Some 30 young Israelis, backpackers who recently completed their mandatory army service, have returned from a trek to India on the premier mission of the “Helpers Without Borders,” NGO, Israel’s NRG News reported Sunday.
The group aims to bring altruism to the time worn Israeli tradition of post-army travel.
“Every year, many young Israelis travel across the world after completing the (mandatory) army service,” project co-ordinator Gilli Cohen told The Times of India in September.
Such trips to India, and elsewhere around the globe are a rite of passage for tens of thousands of Israeli twentysomethings who have been discharged from military service. Many opt to trek the wildest, most inhospitable – and often unlikely – places in the world.
The trips, a breath of fresh air for many after experiencing firsthand war, terrorism, and rigorous army service, serve as a break between uniform and beginning adult life, including college, marriage and careers.
“We wanted to do something with the skills we had learned, and interact more with the local people,” Cohen said of the two-year old initiative.
The group, who mainly volunteered in Mumbai slums and taught children crafts and life skills, served as goodwill ambassadors from Israel to the world. “Everyone of us has a different talent,” Adi Cohemogen told the Indian newspaper.
“A lot of the girls are good at teaching crafts and first aid, and the boys in combat, so they have been teaching Krav Maga,” a Blue and White martial arts system, according to Cohemogen, who taught dance.
The rough and tumble self-defense training was meant to teach self-protection techniques for girls living in shelters, due to recently publicized reports of high rates of rape in India.
Collaborating with local aid NGO, Triratna Prerana Mandal, selected volunteers worked two weeks in a shelter for dozens of street kids. Mumbai’s Jewish community hosted the volunteers, who also offered their self-defense experience to training local security groups, set up after a mass terror attack on the city in 2008. Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, the directors of the local Chabad House Jewish outreach center, and three other Jews were murdered by Pakistani terrorists.
Helpers Without Borders has now embarked on a fundraising campaign to raise about 120 thousand shekels ($30,000) for hosting delegations to other countries, in order to provide the hikers with food, lodging, and transportation.
“Our vision is to create and develop the power of ‘blue and white’ volunteerism in developing countries, through a continuous and ongoing activity of missions spanning several continents at the same time,” a group official said.
The organization – founded by three IDF officers – hope the effort will portray Israelis and the IDF in a positive light.
“Thus populations around the world will be exposed to the the beautiful face of IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens,” according to the group’s president, Gen. (res.) Eliezer Shkedi, a former Israel Air Force chief and outgoing CEO of El Al Airlines.