Israeli park benches vacant because busy retirees aid the needy, attend lectures, teach newcomers

REHOVOT, Israel — Though most of my friends are retired, none of them has time for sitting on park benches.

Health permitting, they are as busy as they always were, and in some cases even more so. A small minority are still part-time employees, but the great majority are unpaid volunteers. Here in Rehovot, for example, they are the backbone of the city's 45 volunteer-driven organizations.

In the health sphere we might work with schizophrenics, retarded children, victims of cancer, survivors of the Holocaust, children with learning difficulties or hospital patients. Others devote long weekly hours to improve community safety and security: As members of the auxiliary police, retirees often escort young schoolchildren across busy streets or help form roadblocks for city construction sites.

More than 6,000 volunteers with Yad Sarah, the largest volunteer organization in Israel, provide help those who are ill, elderly or have disabilties. Many volunteers carry out home visits, bringing crafts projects, teaching computer skills, helping with errands and recording life stories.

Another important civic activity, immigrant absorption, relies heavily on the in-kind work of pensioners. Some prefer to help newcomers from a similar background, while others might teach Hebrew to immigrants.

The abundance of active retirees has spurred the establishment of special companies that organize educational outings. One of the newest and most active is Beit Shmuel, which sponsors more than 133 programs this year, most of them in Jerusalem.

My wife and I recently attended an outing that let us explore some picturesque neighborhoods of the capital city, including its so-called German Colony, established in the 19th century by Protestant Templars from Bavaria; Rehavia, home of the German Jews who fled Hitler; and Talbiah.

The Shorashim Company also organizes programs for seniors and sponsors many erudite seminars, such as forums on Cervantes' "Don Quixote" and the late Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, a longtime promoter of unifying the religious and the secular.

Particularly popular among retirees are discussions of prose and poetry. Recently, for instance, I attended a at a series on gifted poet Yehuda Amichai and noticed about half the 150 people in the Tel Aviv auditorium were over 60.

As retirees, we are so busy enriching our own lives and helping others, we simply have no time to occupy Israel's park benches.

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