Saluting our volunteers
This week is National Volunteer Week, when we salute those in our community who give their time and passion to causes they believe in. To mark the occasion, The AJN profiles a selection of volunteers from the Sydney and Melbourne communities and celebrates their contributions.
Ephraim “Smiley” Cypris and Belinda Elboher
Jewish National Fund (Vic)
Ephraim “Smiley” Cypris is one of JNF Victoria’s longstanding volunteers whose dedication, spirit and positive nature has become an integral part of JNF’s Blue Box campaigns.
Each Pesach and Rosh Hashanah, JNF with the help of the community, raises money for essential projects in Israel as part of the Blue Box campaign.
This campaign could not thrive without volunteers such as Smiley, whose passion for JNF comes from his strong belief that Israel belongs to the Jewish people, and JNF’s core work in developing the land and nourishing the people of Israel connects him to his heritage.
Honest, reliable and dedicated, Cypris was also recently nominated for the Glen Eira City Council Citizen of the Year Award – which recognises volunteers who have made a significant contribution to community life in Glen Eira – for 2023.
Belinda Elboher is a longstanding chairperson for JNF’s annual Green Sunday telephone campaign, held each year in February to coincide with Tu b’Shvat.
“I like to consider myself someone with a strong connection to Israel but I wanted to put that value into action here in Australia,” she said.
“I also believe that volunteering allows you to make a positive impact in your community and help others who may be less fortunate or facing difficult circumstances.”
Elboher said volunteering has “given me the opportunity to be part of something larger than myself and contribute to a cause that I care about”.
“I really enjoy working with like-minded people who share my passion for Israel and environmental conservation,” she added.
“Volunteering can give you new skills, give you a new sense of purpose and be a great addition to your resume, as it shows potential employers that you have a strong work ethic, and are committed to making a difference.
“It can also be a great way to meet new people who share similar passions and interests as you.”
Jewish Museum of Australia (Vic)
When Kay Ronec retired from her busy life in the fashion industry, she felt it was time to give back to the community.
A friend who was working at the Jewish Museum of Australia (JMA) at the time asked if she would be interested in working in the curatorial department.
“After finding out more about what was involved, I loved the idea and started immediately,” she said.
“That was close to 15 years ago and I still love what I do. I come across some amazing stories of Jewish life in Melbourne and beyond.”
As well as the stories, Ronec loves the donated items like garments and other textiles.
“I love being a guide at exhibitions that are of specific interest to me,” she added, “And I enjoy very much being involved with the Roots project that helps and encourages school students to research their family histories.”
She said some of the highlights at JMA include being involved in the preparations for the museum’s 2021 flagship exhibition celebrating the life and work of Mirka Mora and transcribing “beautiful letters” written by Lucie Hallenstein to her son Lieutenant Dalbert Hallenstein every day while he fought for Australia in World War I.
“Lucie’s letters are so moving and descriptive and hold so much information about family life and life in Melbourne at the time,” she said.
For those considering volunteering, she said, “Don’t hesitate, just do it.
“Today I volunteer for two very important and special organisations, the Jewish Museum of Australia and Courage to Care, each contribute so much to the fabric of the Melbourne community.
“I love volunteering. It expands my mind. Every day I learn so much and it is so very rewarding.”
Venetia Kalinko’s journey began with a World WIZO Mission called “Holocaust to Rebirth” – a trip sponsored by the French Rothschild family, who were encouraging young WIZO women to visit Auschwitz and then Israel.
From that time, she became a true WIZO woman, a passionate and dedicated volunteer who has been working with WIZO for over 34 years.
Kalinko and her committed executive of WIZO Rachel have created many fundraising events and activities, achieving incredible results all for the benefit of women and children in WIZO Australia’s projects in Israel. WIZO Rachel’s work has had a significant impact on the organisation’s success.
Each year, WIZO Rachel’s events are a highlight in the community. One example is the annual Melbourne Cup Luncheon. Spearheaded by Kalinko, her co-president Dee Aronson and the Rachel team, just last year the group raised a significant amount which was sent directly to Israel, refurbishing a basketball court at WIZO Australia’s Ahuzat Yeladim centre in Haifa that houses the most disadvantaged youth in Israel.
The basketball court is the centre focus of activity for the students, and they were thrilled to have it returned to them.
Kalinko has a natural talent for connecting with people, and her friendly demeanour and positive attitude have helped her build strong relationships with donors and volunteers throughout the world. She and husband Stan have inspired their family, making them aware of WIZO’s vital role in Israel.
Kalinko is a shining example of the positive impact that one person can have on a not-for-profit organisation. Her dedication, passion and hard work have helped to improve the lives of families in Israel and she serves as an inspiration to others who are looking to get involved and make a difference.
JewishCare was there for Debby Kollin at time when she needed their help. Now, she is a volunteer with the organisation.
“[JewishCare manager, volunteer services] Lana Kofman contacted me because I had some involvement before with JewishCare, and Lana knew I was looking for something to do and asked if I would like to volunteer at lunchtime doing receptionist duties,” she said.
She looks at her work as a way of helping JewishCare in return.
“I just love the interaction with people, and learning a lot of new skills with the receptionist work,” she said, adding that the passion of her fellow volunteers and the JewishCare staff helps to drive and inspire her.
“The staff are wonderful. Everyone’s so helpful and everyone’s really, really friendly.”
She said she would “definitely recommend” volunteering to anyone considering it.
“You meet some like-minded people … and everyone helps each other. It’s just like one big family,” she said.
“Great people, great atmosphere, very helpful. They’ve really helped me a lot and it’s a good way of giving back to the community.”
C Care (Vic)
Sharon Winer first heard about C Care when she was a carer, and a client of hers started receiving weekly food packages.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic began and she could no longer continue her job, Sharon decided to share her passion for cooking and volunteer at C Care as a chef.
Winer loves volunteering, as she is able to have a real impact on the lives of people in need by providing them with delicious food that she helps to create. Through volunteering, she is able to share the skills that she has in the kitchen to support people who are missing out.
She said the highlight of volunteering at C Care is meeting other volunteers of all different age groups and nationalities, coming together with a shared goal. She also thoroughly enjoys using problem solving skills and expressing her creativity to make delicious meals with whatever is on hand.
“Everyone can give up a couple of hours every fortnight for the greater good,” Winer said.
“There are so many ways to be involved and share your time and skills, whether it be in the kitchen, chopping, packing or delivering, please reach out to C Care!”
National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (NSW)
A few years ago on a significant birthday Ruth Shteinman was on the lookout for a worthy cause to support instead of gifts. Maxine Bachmayer, then co-president of National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (NCJWA) NSW, told her about an organisation making reusable sanitary kits for women and girls in need called Days For Girls.
“At the time I had no idea about the extent of ‘period poverty’ and I was shocked by the numbers: 500 million worldwide,” Shteinman said.
“We organised an event at NCJWA which was very successful. Grandmothers, mothers, daughters and sons worked together at communal tables, and many components were made.”
She was encouraged to establish the Days for Girls committee.
“That has grown and brought me together with some fantastic, smart women,” she said.
“Our events have also put me in contact with many members of our community and beyond. It is so heartening to see the enthusiasm and energy that so many of our volunteers bring to this work.”
She recalled when lockdowns started, a close friend with experience in fashion production helped her set up a secure system to replace events that had to be cancelled.
“We called it our Make-at-Home project. Literally within hours 70 volunteers had signed up as homebound makers, or to deliver kits to dispersed volunteers,” Shteinman said.
“The volume produced was immense, and there was appreciative feedback about the opportunity to turn isolation into worthwhile work.
“Now working bees again take place at NCJWA every school holidays, plus we have a monthly making group. Make-at-Home still continues for those who it suits best.”
She said volunteers are welcome to share all of their talents and interests, “because input comes in many shades.
“Everyone you work with is also a volunteer,” she added. “Sometimes human connections can be as vital as the social goal.”
Harry and Lena Pose
Courage to Care (Vic)
Harry and Lena Pose share many things: a love of life, humour, family, arts and culture. And a passion for making the world a better place through volunteering.
“I was encouraged to join Courage to Care by two close friends,” Harry said. “They got me involved as a facilitator.”
Lena, who others would describe as thoughtful and intelligent, would occasionally accompany Harry and observe. “I was extremely impressed with the program’s presentation,” she said, “And I enjoyed the accomplishment and positivity Harry expressed about his engagement with students. With her organisational experience, she said, “I thought I could best add to the program in the capacity of organiser.”
Both have experienced many highlights whilst volunteering with Courage to Care.
Harry recalled one time a student ran after him as his group was getting ready to head home. “He yelled out a big ‘thank you’ and stated that he and his friends would all become Upstanders,” Harry said.
Lena recalled being approached after a session by a teacher who told her that she was the daughter of a Nazi party member.
“She said it was the first time she had mentioned it to someone,” Lena said. “She felt guilt, but I assured her that she could not be responsible for her father’s actions, and that she was very brave in ‘coming out’ to me.”
A more cheerful memory was at a session where Henry Ekert, a paediatric haematologist at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital was the Survivor Speaker. Afterwards, Lena was approached by a student who wanted to be re-introduced to Henry, “To say a big thank you for saving her life many years ago.
“There were embraces and joyous tears all around.”
Both Lena and Harry appreciate receiving positive feedback from students – a warm handshake or words of thanks at the completion of a session. They enjoy mixing with the other volunteers and making contact with many enthusiastic teachers.
Asked if there was anything specific they wanted to be add about their volunteering, Lena poignantly said watching the introductory Courage to Care video was personal.
“My father, Reverend Pinkus Berliner, was given an exit visa from Lithuania in 1940
signed by Chiune Sugihara,” she said. Japanese Consul Sugihara is mentioned regularly in Courage to Care resource material as a brave Upstander who saved many lives.
“Dad was studying at a yeshivah in Mir, Lithuania,” Lena said, “and he ended up fleeing by ship to Australia. I am forever grateful to Sugihara for rescuing my father.”
After 12 years of volunteering at Montefiore, providing companionship, transportation to and from medical appointments, trips to the shops and more, Jenny Kriss has many heart-warming and hilarious stories of her time spent with residents.
Retirement after running her own successful business was not all it was cracked up to be in Kriss’ experience. She found “sitting around” near impossible and was looking for something to fill her days with after decades of a high-flying career.
“I had the thought that it might be an idea to give some of my time to others, I had far too much of it for myself,” she said.
“When I’m at Montefiore I get an injection of thankfulness. When I see people of my age or younger who are struggling with ill health, I am filled with gratitude. This is what I get from volunteering, a true sense of thankfulness.”
Kriss worked alone with few or no staff for most of her career. Her volunteer work has allowed her to discover the joy of forging new relationships, encountering people from many different walks of life. “Inadvertently through volunteering, I have gained so much, and I have met so many wonderful people. I have far more human connections now,” she said.
She sings the praises of not only the residents, but also the Montefiore staff. “They have such dedication, patience and friendliness, they are the most amazing human beings to give their time to making those living at Montefiore feel comfortable and revered. They have enriched my life.”
Kriss is just one of the 200-plus dedicated volunteers at Montefiore who each make an incredible difference to the lives of elderly residents every day. Volunteers give generously of their time and spirit – contributing to the social and emotional wellbeing of residents and enhancing their quality of life.