Alena (from Germany) spent a year volunteering through the European Voluntary Service (now the European Solidarity Corps) at the European Jewish Community Centre (EJCC) in Brussels. She came across this opportunity thanks to Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedendienste (ASF). As her year of volunteering has now come to an end, she was happy to share her story with us.
Inspired by a story
In her final year at secondary school Alena got inspired by someone who went to volunteer abroad and came to talk about it at her school. Motivated to embark on a similar journey, she got in touch with ASF. ASF is a German organisation focusing on reconciliation and repentance. It does this by organising peace services, summer camps and other activities in Germany, across Europe, the USA and Israel. They have been sending volunteers to Belgium since 1963. In Belgium ASF Belgium is the Belgian sister organisation coordinating the incoming volunteers.
Finding the right volunteers
ASF organises elaborate recruitment weekends and ensures there is an accompanying programme in place for the volunteers to guide them throughout. This way they try to make sure volunteers are matched with most suitable organisation and vice versa. ASF organises on-arrival trainings and trainings during the year for reflection, evaluation and more.
First time host
For the EJCC it was the first time they partnered up with ASF to host a volunteer. The EJCC opened 15 years ago as a community centre in the European Institution’s neighbourhood. Their programmes and resources aim to promote Jewish culture and the understanding of Jewish values to the European community.
Following the Paris (2015) and Brussels (2016) attacks, they have started a new project called Dialogue & Diversity in which they aim to facilitate understanding of different cultures by creating bridges between communities, and are working more with local organisations and schools, and set up programmes of Dialogue.
We weren’t really sure what to expect as we never had a volunteer before. So it was a surprise all in all, but a good one.
It’s hard to pick a favourite experience – the holidays like Chanukah are very nice and I’m looking forward to Rosh Hashanah… but the everyday work is very interesting too.
As a volunteer Alena was able to gradually develop her own package of tasks and responsibilities. She discovered a passion for social media and design, and was able to support her colleagues with tasks related to this. With a specialisation in history at secondary school, Alena learned about and contributed to many of the Jewish holiday events the team organised.
Training and support
In addition to the trainings organised for ASF volunteers Alena also took part in the On-Arrival and Mid-Term Training organised by JINT. Alena saw it as a very positive experience to meet volunteers from other countries. Whereas the On-Arrival Training was mostly about introducing yourself and getting to know each other, the Mid-Term Training was more about the projects and the work you were doing. She also received the Youthpass certificate upon completion of her volunteering experience.
After her year at EJCC has come to an end, Alena has decided to stay in Brussels. She started studying here and will continue working with EJCC, but as a student job. Overall, the EJCC has been very positive about hosting Alena as a volunteer:
It’s been very helpful and we learned a lot from Alena’s perspective. It has very much been a two-way exchange.
Alena volunteered through the European Voluntary Service (EVS), which has now become the European Solidarity Corps. As part of this volunteering experience your return journey is paid for, as is your accommodation. On top of that your meals are covered and you get pocket money (depending on the country you are going to), plus extra support for young people with fewer opportunities.
Would you like to go volunteer somewhere in Europe (or beyond) just like Alena? Check out the European Solidarity Corps opportunities for young people or the Go Strange website (in Dutch) for a wide range of volunteering placements.
Want to welcome a volunteer in your organisation and benefit from their perspective, creativity and support? Check out the European Solidarity Corps opportunities for organisations.
1. Challah Bake Brussels is a yearly event organized by a few Jewish organisations which gathered around 460 women in 2019 to bake Challah together, a special Bread in Judaism. An event with a lot of fun, dancing and singing!
2. Interview at the European Parliament: Discussion organized by the EJCC in the so called "VBox" because of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. People taking part (from left to right): Rabbi Avi Tawil (Director European Jewish Community Centre), Alena Flintzak (volunteer on behalf of Germany's Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste (ASF) at the European Jewish Community Centre), Dan Sobovitz (interviewer), HelgaTrüpel (Member of the European Parliament) and Simon Gronowski, Holocaust survivor.
3. & 4. Chanukah is a Jewish holiday. EJCC celebrated it first in the European Commission with the Commissioner Carlos Moedas. It is a yearly "tradition" to celebrate it in the EC and to give a "Share the light prize" each year. In 2018 we gave it to the Musica Mundi School. The second celebration was on Rond Point Schuman. There was a big tent and we organized a concert with David Hababou and it was a lot of fun with again a lot of singing and dancing.
5. Run4Peace: The EJCC organized a team called "Run4Peace" at the Brussels marathon (6km).
6. Women Discussions Group is a gathering of Women organized by Dialogue & Diversity and a few partner organisations of Women from different religions or non-confessionals to build bridges between communities.