Kedma Launches ‘Marking Milestones’ Program

Several young women holding bright red baskets in a food warehouse smile at the camera.
Gap-year students volunteer at Leket Israel and learn about the importance of food rescue in Israel. | Courtesy of Orit Seif

Israel-based nonprofit Kedma hopes that b’nai mitzvah and wedding celebrations will be more than just parties.

Orit Seif, Kedma’s director, created “Marking Milestones,” a customizable volunteer experience and chesed opportunity for those celebrating simchas, to help do just that.

Marking Milestones, which launched last month, gives Jewish families from across the globe the opportunity to partner with an Israeli organization of their choosing and help design a volunteer experience that is personal to the family and will have a lasting positive impact on Israeli society.

“Our goal is to tailor the volunteer experience to the interest of the family, so that the family feels that what they’re doing is adding a lot of meaning to their celebration,” Seif said.

Founded in 1996, Kedma has a myriad of programs geared toward students taking a gap year in Israel or those outside of Israel looking to give back to the country. 

“Our mission is not just to support Israeli society, but to really to get to know Israeli society and feel connected to it through volunteerism, and to strengthen the ties between diaspora and Israeli Jewry,” Seif said.

The Kedma Volunteer and Cohort Programs matched hundreds of volunteers — many of whom were gap-year students from the United States, Great Britain and France — to Israeli organizations such as Leket Israel and Girls Town Jerusalem. Volunteers helped organize food donations and plan parties for immigrants and disadvantaged youth.

Marking Milestones emerged as an organic next step for Kedma, as it provided a way for more personal bonds to be made between volunteers and Israeli organizations.

For Sharon Weinstein’s family, Marking Milestones gave them the opportunity to connect more deeply with Israeli society. They made aliyah from New Jersey to Ma’ale Adumim five years ago, when their son Ayal was 8.

The program’s inaugural participants decided to work with The Michael Levin Base for their son’s bar mitzvah chesed project.

“He naturally connected to the idea of lone soldiers who, like him, immigrated to Israel and had to figure out how to acclimate to society here,” Weinstein said.

The Weinstein family attended The Base’s draft party, where soldiers received essential supplies. The family helped organize and distribute the supplies, with their children personalizing each package with a thank-you note to the soldiers. They asked friends and family attending the bar mitzvah to bring supplies to customize and distribute to soldiers. 

Because it was a way of integrating into Israeli society, having a chesed project for the bar mitzvah was important to the family, Weinstein said. 

“Having some help in crafting a chesed component helped ensure that this integral aspect didn’t get lost in the shuffle,” she said. 

Though the Weinsteins held their Marking Milestones event in Israel, olim aren’t the only ones who can volunteer through Kedma. 

Behind a blue crate filled with apples, several masked students look at a camera, smiling behind masks. One boy in the front is giving a thumbs up.
Gap-year students and olim continued to volunteer through Kedma over the course of the pandemic. | Courtesy of Orit Seif

Kedma’s remote programs helped pave the way for Marking Milestones, which is available remotely and for those living in Israel.  

When COVID-19 began, Kedma expanded its mission to help those isolated by the pandemic, initiating a host of remote volunteering opportunities. It launched Dial-A-Savta, encouraging volunteers to connect over the phone or Zoom with seniors and those who were immunocompromised. It also created Homework Helpers, a remote tutoring program for gap-year students to assist young students in the U.S.

In December, Kedma connected with the Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia through Homework Helpers, a school to which Seif has personal connections. A Philadelphia resident for 12 years, Seif had some of her six children attend the school. 

Seif reached out to Nicole Afriat, the school’s coordinator of student needs, and they partnered volunteers in Israel with students at the Torah Academy who were in danger of falling through the cracks after the transition to remote learning. According to Afriat, the program was a success. 

“The volunteers are just lovely, helpful, eager people who really have a heart in helping these kids,” Afriat said.

Seif hopes that Marking Milestones will bolster Kedma’s impact of helping those in need and growing local relationships to Israel, particularly as the pandemic continues to hinder international connections.

“We see Marking Milestones as a way to reignite that fire,” Seif said.

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