Students who live for their volunteering

By Jennifer Lipman, October 19, 2011
Deborah Blausten, Richard Lewis and Noam Roth

Deborah Blausten, Richard Lewis and Noam Roth

Three University College London students are settling into their new home as part of a social action project based on a successful Israeli programme.

In return for having the rent of their Camden flat subsided by UJIA, third-year students Deborah Blausten, Richard Lewis and Noam Roth will spend a significant chunk of the academic year volunteering in the local community and the wider Jewish world.

They will divide eight hours a week between the Jewish youth movements they grew up in and the Holy Cross Centre Trust, an organisation working with the homeless and mentally ill in Camden and Islington.

The Ayalim UK scheme is based on an Israeli venture established six years ago and focused on developing the infrastructure of deprived regions in the Galil and the Negev. Around 5,000 young Israelis live in dedicated volunteer villages working for a variety of causes, with their tuition fees covered in return.

Mr Lewis, an archaeology student, was impressed by a project taking "an active approach to the local community" as opposed to "the apathetic way most students treat the people living near them".

Although there are just the three students on the pilot scheme, the intention is to enhance volunteering among other young British Jews, with the flat serving as a social action hub. The Ayalim trio will be arranging events throughout the year, from trips to a soup kitchen over Succot to Mitzvah Day projects and educational and interfaith sessions.

"In order to build up a community of student volunteers, we first need to build up a community of students," said Mr Roth, a 21-year-old medical student and Bnei Akiva leader.

The idea is for the trio's flat to serve as a social action hub

Mr Lewis ex-pressed hope that the house would become a venue where people from diverse backgrounds could socialise, learn, pray and feel comfortable.

When a fresher, he felt he had to choose between "being Jewish and being a student. I lost some of the Jewish aspect of my life.

"I want to ensure that students can be both students and Jews without losing something from either."

Another purpose of the new programme is to foster links with Israeli communities, which the three - who all spent gap years in Israel - are ideally placed to do.

Having supported Ayalim in Israel, UJIA sees bringing the project to Britain as the logical next step. Chief Executive Douglas Krikler was confident that a "strong partnership" could develop between the volunteers in both countries. "This kind of interaction strengthens both the UK Jewish community and the communities of the Galil and goes to the heart of our programme," he said.

Although it is early days for the project, if this year is a success, it can only get bigger. Medical student Ms Blausten - who spent her gap year with RSY-Netzer in Israel campaigning for African refugee rights - said the key was that Ayalim offered something which had hitherto been "missing in the student world. I can't wait to see it grow."

If you wish to apply to live in an Ayalim house in 2012-13, please email

Last updated: 4:28pm, October 19 2011