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Ron Rudolph had enough experience in construction back in Butte, Montana to help built a therapeutic farm in Jerusalem this summer. Rudolph, 23, a junior at the University of Montana, digs, paints, excavates, plants four days a week to create a city-based agricultural are for youth at risk. "I love it," says Rudolph. "It gives me the opportunity to live and Israel and to contribute."

Rudolph visited Israel for ten days in the summer of 2007 on a birthright Israel tour and was eager to return, but summer employment as a beer distributor made him postpone his plans. His mother, a member of the Hadassah women's organization saw an advertisement for a program called Amirim, sponsored by Hadassah and the Young Judaea Youth movement. "Four days a week we work, and one day we take fascinating tours," said Rudolph, working on creating a drainage ditch for eventual rain run-off. Now he's back for eight weeks.

The work is satisfying, and Rudolph also appreciates the cultural and historical input he gets from the course. "I'm learning a lot about Israel," he said. "I don't feel rushed. I can think and absorb over the summer." Rudolph is one of 100 college students and other young adults from the US, Canada, Mexico and Europe who participated in the Amirim program.

Rebecca Jaffe of Cary, North Carolina didn't expect to get quite such a hands-on experience dealing with the environment when she signed up for the Amirim Summer Program in Israel. But the University of North Carolina junior majoring in environmental science has been digging, planting, and painting for many hours each week, helping to set up a therapeutic agricultural project for girls at risk in Jerusalem.

"I had worked with my Dad at home since I was a little girl so I'm handy with a hoe and a saw," said Jaffe, 20. "We're creating this new city-based farm so that girls with difficult backgrounds can feel empowered by learning to grow food and plants."

"The Amirim volunteers are a terrific help," says mentor Doniel Asulin who directs the agricultural Project. "The progress we made this summer is a result of their good ideas and hard work."

Like Rudolph, Jaffe first visited Israel on a birthright Israel ten-day tour and was eager to return. Her mom also noticed the advertisement for Amirim and thought it would be a good fit for her daughter. "She felt safe with me going on a program sponsored by Hadassah and Young Judaea," said Jaffe. "She was right. I felt safe but able to explore the entire wonderful summer.

Jaffe lives in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem, an easy walk from the city's trendy cafes and clubs, but itself a mixed neighborhood of Israelis from different backgrounds.

Another benefit of the program is greatly increasing her understanding of the regional conflict, said Jaffe. "Although I have been active in pro-Israel activities on campus and off campus in North Carolina, I now feel better prepared to discuss the issues," said Jaffe. "We visited Hebron, and heard speakers from the far left, center and far right. I've seen what's happening and can speak with greater authority."

Jaffe says she has been outraged that Jewish students with very little background leap to condemning Israel.

"Our campus is less political and I haven't had to deal with anti-Israel demonstrations," said Rudolph. "I have had to face other anti-Semitism. At a "Liberty" convention on my campus, there were numerous anti-Semitic brochures and we hear anti-Semitism from skinheads."

Amirim volunteers immerse themselves in Israeli life by living in apartments in Jerusalem, the south-of-Tel Aviv seaside city of Bat Yam and the desert city of Arad. They volunteer four times a week for non-profit organizations for either 4 or 8 weeks. They can earn college credit for the 8-week option. Participants also enjoy cultural events, weekly group tours, camping and hiking. Volunteer opportunities encompass many fields including, coexistence, environment, women’s rights, animal rights, soup kitchen, migrant workers.

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