March 29, 2007
By ADAM SEGAL
Special to The CJN
A group of Canadians, including Sid Brail, second from right, and his wife Judy, third from left, picked oranges and grapefruits for the Israel Food Bank
Like many newly retired people, Sid Brail was eager to spend some of his newfound free time on an adventure.
And since he’s a staunch Zionist, a trip to Israel made perfect sense.
But rather than hop on and off a tour bus, Brail and wife Judy opted to participate in the Gideon Program, a hands-on odyssey that involves volunteer work and field trips across Israel.
“My wife and I are still pretty active, and since we wanted to go to Israel to do something different, we went online, found Gideon and chose to do it,” he said.
The Brail’s were part of a contingent of eight “active retirees” from Canada who spent 25 days in Israel on the program this past January and February.
Their trip, which was based in full-service accommodations in Netanya, included such diverse activities as teaching English to elementary school students, picking citrus fruits on a moshav for a food bank, and volunteering in a soup kitchen.
“I went to an all-boys school to tutor English to students in grades 7 and 8,” recalled Brail, who worked in Toronto’s Jewish community for 15 years.
“I took the sports page from the Jerusalem Post and we talked about it. It was really nice to get to be with the kids and learn about their lives in Israel.”
The program mixed volunteering with sightseeing at both historical and contemporary landmarks.
For example, the group toured historical sites such as Atlit, a detainee camp near Haifa where illegal immigrants to British Mandate Palestine were held, as well as modern-day institutions such as a training facility for seeing-eye dogs.
“[The touring] made us more informed about Israel and its history,” Brail said.
The program was launched under the auspices of the Jewish Agency for Israel and B’nai Brith in the early 1980s by Netanya-native Gideon Shiponi, who wanted to foster solidarity between Israel and Diaspora through volunteering.
It has grown significantly over the years and today is overseen by the Shiponi family.
Brail noted that the program has traditionally been aimed mostly at Americans, but there is now an active effort to recruit Canadians.
“In terms of all the trips we took and all the things we did, this experience was excellent,” said Brail.
“It met all our expectations.”
Another trip under the auspices of the Gideon Program is set for April and June.
For details, visit www.gideonprogram.com, or phone 416-222-6911.
© 2006 The Canadian Jewish News