We all know that Thanksgiving is that specific and acknowledged time of the year to be thankful for family, friends, the food on our plates and the roof over our heads. But that should go unsaid. Every single day we should be gratifying for what or whom we always thank over the turkey laying on the dinner table each year cramped between grandma’s stuffing or Aunt Giza’s amazingly delicious -with-marshmallows-on-top sweet potato pie. For this Thanksgiving, why don’t we all do something special for someone else? With the Holidays approaching and a New Year just a month away, getting a head start on those New Year Mitzvahs wouldn’t be such a bad idea. A great way to do this is to get involved with JChoice. Now I know I’m just the Social Media Intern at JChoice and started out only a few weeks ago, but what attracted me so much to the internship is the ultimate goal of the company: to network through social media to non-profit causes out there making a difference in the world by giving what us Jews call Tzedakah. Tzedakah can be seen as an obligation of the Jewish people to give. As an important aspect of a spiritual life, Tzedakah is the Hebrew term translated as charity. The word is based on a root that means justice. Tzedakah, as well as the JChoice mission, is not and should not only be read as a Jewish thing. Giving to others and helping people should be a universal element of everyone’s daily life. Getting caught up in who’s new in Hollywood, the extracurriculars I am involved in, and of course the homework that occupies my college life, I sometimes forget about what is really important: seeing the less fortunate, smile.

I remember back in high school I came back from a really awesome and amazing trip and was so moved by what I experienced. Spending three weeks with my family in Africa, I couldn’t help but think of the Mukuni Village, a village we saw while staying in Zambia. The ten of us were visiting the village and talking with some of the people that lived there – those that could understand us. The children looked at us with begging eyes. My aunt suggested maybe we give them some candy and gave me what she had in her purse. As soon as they heard this word, a swarm of fifteen-twenty kids were surrounding me- grabbing at my hands, tugging at me, and crying when they couldn’t get a piece of that small piece of candy because there just wasn’t enough. As small as it was, one piece of candy would have brought a huge smile to many of these kid’s faces. So when I came back, entering my senior year of high school and frantically applying to colleges, I put aside some of that time to organize a “Stuff Drive” with the peace club I was running at my school. As a group, we decided that these people in this village need our help and what better way than to give? Until that trip to the Mukuni Village, I never really knew what poverty was all about. Of course we have our own poverty problems living in the United States, but until that point, I was never exposed to it. Since then, and now a college student in the city, I try to give as much as possible. I’ll give to the homeless guy sitting in the T station at Copley or the one in front of the coffee shop in Central. But when that isn’t satisfying enough, I think of other ways I can give and make the biggest ultimate impact on someone else’s life. That’s why I joined the JChoice team. JChoice is the new social network engaging Jewish youth in creative ways to make charitable contributions to diverse and meaningful causes of their choice.

The first step to making any kind of impact is to actively show an interest in whatever it is you want to make a difference in. After doing some research, you can become more familiar with different causes – such as those at jchoice.org. One specific cause that stands out is called Baal Dan Charities. Baal Dan Charities provides education materials and learning aides, toys, and supplies for children ages 3-16 in need in Calcutta, India. These children are usually street children who ran away from abusive homes, child labor groups, and gangs, and live in dangerous railway stations known as “trapping grounds.” Living in such environments, these children still get abused from police, gangs, drug dealers, and sexual predators. Social workers and charities create a safe shelter at the railways at night. Children are recruited with parents when possible or are sent to halfway homes for further treatment and rehabilitation. By doing this, children can live off the streets and try to live the life every child deserves.

So this Thanksgiving, I’ll thank the people I have in my life, the opportunities that are available to me, and the food on my plate and the roof over my head. I’ll also think about what I can do to make a difference and continue to do so as much as I can. Perhaps you’re a student at a high school or college and want to start an organization to support a certain cause. Why not start one to help children in need? Think about yourself as a child. What made you smile? A new Barbie doll? The new Hot Wheels race car toy? What do you think would make one of these children in need smile? Sometimes it’s smaller than you think. Even as small as a piece of candy or a ten-page book.


I used to look at the piles of photo albums my mom had stashed away in her closet. Photograph after photograph of her, at 18 years old, in army uniform, smiling with the other Israeli soldiers on her base, depicted a world I would never grow up to learn about once my parents moved to the United States when I was only six months old.

Over nineteen years later, I am back in Israel, sitting in a parked Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) staring up at the Israel summer night sky after a long day of volunteering on the base, wondering why, only now, I’m back in my birth country.

What I quickly realized is how sheltered I was growing up in the States as an American, only worried about GPAs, Grey’s Anatomy and the latest tips in Cosmo. More importantly, I finally understood why my Israeli family always glorified their country back at home and why my cousins were counting down the days until they were old enough to sign up for the army. And us Americans are counting down the days we are of legal age to drink. See, there’s the difference. Because the love for their country is so strong, Israelis really do show the rest of the world through their brother and sisterhood, that being passionate about a country is to protect the country. Even people who are not citizens of Israel want to join the Israeli army because of the level of dedication. By simply being a volunteer, I wanted to get the same sort of experience, even if I wasn’t to start up basic training in a few months.

My interest in going to see Israel sparked when I went back to my high school at the end of this past May to re-unite with a few old classmates. I remember specifically when someone got up and said they were going to spend a week in Israel. He wasn’t Jewish. He had no connection to Israel. But apparently he did.

Knowing at that point that I needed to go to Israel, I called every agency I could that afternoon. I finally came across Sar-El Volunteers for Israel, a program where students and adults from all over the world can spend a few weeks volunteering on an army base. After talking to the President of the program and submitting the necessary paperwork, I booked my ticket, and left for Tel Aviv, Israel on July 9, 2009.

I remember when I first jumped off the bus that brought us to Mount Hermon, where our base was located at the most northern part of Israel, what we would learn to call home for the next 22 days. Our group excitedly stood outside where the soldiers raise their flag each morning, gawking at the Israelis walking around with guns, drinking Coca-cola, and looking back at us as if they’ve never seen eleven foreigners from different parts of the world with so much luggage, weird clothes, and strange accents. Little did they know that no matter how different we seemed, we all shared the same passion and love for the same country: Israel.

“There’s something about the country, about Israel,” said Sar-El ’09 volunteer Genevieve Reisman from Scarsdale, New York, “Israel is a country where you just don’t feel limited.”

That moment when I felt the limitless possibilities was when I put on the Israeli Defense Forces uniform for the first time. Turning around to show the others, one of my friends had said, “You know you actually look like an Israeli soldier?” At that moment, I suddenly felt this intense feeling of closeness to the country where I was born. I felt like I was a part of the country, the unity, the people, and the togetherness. So maybe I wasn’t serving their country for two years like some others, but I was engrossing myself in an experience of a lifetime. I wanted to feel the passion these Israeli soldiers felt everyday as they stood straight with their weapons at their sides, saluting the Israeli flag. For three weeks I was one of them.

For the Israeli citizen, joining the army is the equivalent to the American going to college upon graduating high school, except it is mandatory. What makes the Israeli and United States army different is that serving the States is on a voluntary basis, whereas it is a requirement of all Israeli men and women once they turn 18. What I realized while volunteering on the base is that the love for the country is so strong that even people who are not citizens of the country want to enlist. Tzvi Gamsu, one of the volunteers in our group, had decided such when he packed up all his belongings and said goodbye to South Africa. Gamsu realized he wanted to join the Israeli army when he took a look at the Israeli soldiers enlisted and the ones that had just completed their years of service and thought that they were doing something really great and “learning things about life that no where else you can learn.” After selling his car, bike, packing up his room, saying bye to his friends, girlfriend, sister and the rest of his family, Gamsu booked his plane ticket and walked away from the country where he lived his entire life and started a new one in Israel.

Growing up having dual citizenship makes me feel like I can call two countries ‘home.’ After this experience in Israel, I can associate with understanding what culture and unity actually means. In the United States we say we are united for all, but it’s sometimes hard as a 20 year old, one that has grown up in the country and gone to school in the city, to feel it. In Israel, however, it’s hard to not be a part of the community. It seems like Israel is in the news every other day. People have the right to have their own opinion about Israel, but what it comes down to is there are a lot more people out there who want to see Israel continue to grow. I may be a Jew that didn’t grow up immersed in a Jewish education, but after seeing the Israeli lifestyle, I have this new gratification for the country.

I still rely on Cosmo for healthy lifestyle tips, worry about my GPA, and feel the need to keep up with Grey’s Anatomy, but now I identify much more with Israel than I did before and who knows, maybe one day I’ll actually join the Israeli army for more than just three weeks. We’ll see.