"We make a living by what we get
We make a life by what we give" (Anon)
As many as are the social and cultural activities organized by ESRA throughout Israel over the past 40 years, so many are the people whose lives have been touched, rewarded and enhanced by ESRA's creativity and initiatives. Whether one likes volunteering, teaching, hiking, movies, playing games, eating out or just mingling, ESRA has something for everyone.
I am not sure that ESRA's founder, Honorary President and ESRA Magazine Editor, Merle Guttmann, could ever have imagined just how large the English speaking non-profit would grow, and the immense contribution it would make to so many of us over the years. Initially just a social activity group for Anglo olim, the organization has blossomed and thrived, and now boasts 25 branches in towns and cities from northern to southern Israel, offering a dizzying array of activities and interest groups to satisfy every palate, and all conducted in our native tongue.
There are some events that attract the younger ages, others that draw pensioners, and yet more that appeal to every age group, but one thing is certain, they are all an enjoyable way to spend leisure hours doing what we like to do. And as importantly, making new friends.
For instance, if you like the outdoors, hiking and spending a day exploring the nooks and crannies of Israel, ESRA offers regular monthly organized hikes to fascinating and off-the-beaten-track sites. ESRA's hiking club, all accompanied by experienced guide, Reuven Arad from Kibbutz Maagan Michael, are coordinated by Lawrence Bertfield of Raanana. The club has been active for about 10 years during which time they have completed more than 80 hikes. "I have been able to see so much of Israel which I would never otherwise have seen without hiking through wadis, forest paths, and along mountain crags," says Lawrence. "The tours are always exciting and filled with fun, enhanced by the knowledge of our fabulous guide. We regularly have between 25 to 30 participants." Each hike usually lasts a full day with about five hours of hiking proper, the balance of the time for travel, rendezvous and stops for lunch. Hiking season commences during the intermediary days of Succot up until May, with the average cost of NIS145 for ESRA members (NIS185 for non-members).
For those who are not hiking enthusiasts but love to travel around Israel visiting interesting places, ESRA offers monthly tours with professional guides, coordinated by Cecily Hanson and assisted by Val Kantor. The tours are a popular pastime, whether to Eilat for a music festival, the guide dog training school in Rehovot, or to a newly opened museum, such as the Yaacov Agam Museum in Holon where we were lucky to meet the famous artist himself. Pick-up points are arranged to make the tours available to as many people as possible, and more often than not, the tours are sold out quickly. Prices for the day tours cost in the region of NIS150 for ESRA members (NIS195 for non-members). Overnight tours are also organized periodically, with varying prices.
ESRA's Camera Club was initiated just last October through the efforts of retired gastroenterologist and former head of the department at Beilinson Hospital, Dr. Gerry Fraser. The activity offers a new outlet for photography fans to exercise their talents. Over 50 enthusiasts attended the first meeting and the group, which meets regularly once a month on a Friday, attracts up to 30 participants each time. Locations are always pre-determined by a core group that makes decisions for the club. After every outing, a follow-up viewing and critique session is held of selected photographs sent in by the participants, whose cameras range from highly sophisticated devices to mobile phones. Presentations about photography are also given by the more experienced members of the club. The cost per meeting is a reasonable NIS20 for ESRA members, and NIS30 for non-members.
For those addicted to card games, there is a wide choice of possibilities from bridge to kaluki to canasta. Bridge in particular is a challenging and highly popular game so there is always interest in learning this new hobby. In addition to local branch efforts throughout the country, a club for bridge beginners was begun in Raanana in January by bridge-master, Stephen Freeman, to help "spread the joy of the game". Now a closed group, some 16-18 people meet every week at Beit Fisher for two hours to test their skills, and happily pay NIS35 per time (NIS45 for non-members) for the privilege. New groups will be in the offing in the future. Over and above cards, other game clubs offer regular mahjong and scrabble where participants pay up to NIS25 per week. It must be the click of the tiles.
Some people like to move their bodies rather than sit at a card table, and if you are one of those, then Zumba or folk dancing might be of interest to you. Zumba, which is a very well-liked and enjoyable form of exercise, is conducted by Stacey Shani. Between 25 to 30 participants sweat it out for a whole hour every Sunday, and pay some NIS30 (NIS40 for non-members) each week for the fun. Roni Green leads a smaller group of folk-dancing lovers every Thursday morning for an hour and a half at Beit Fisher at a cost of NIS35 per session.
And then there are those who love to sit, listen and be entranced and enriched by the vast knowledge of a huge array of professionals – all specialists within their chosen fields – who make presentations on topics as diverse as art, politics, history, literature, health, music, and of course, Israel, just to mention a few. There are two key ESRA lecture series that have been ongoing for many years and draw participants from all over the country: the ESRA College at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which offers both lectures and guided tours every Monday and Thursday morning from 10:00-12: from 9:00-11.30. Both series offer subscriptions, although tickets may also be purchased for individual events. Similar monthly lecture series are organized also in Netanya and Ramat Aviv.
There are no boundaries for increasing one's general knowledge whether through studies, lectures, the internet or simply, through life experience. Most of us enjoy pet hobbies, whether they be of the weirder variety, such as collecting key rings or pens (yes, I know people who do), or the more common, such as gardening, writing or pottery. All however contribute to our accumulated knowledge and what better way to show our muster than in a quiz, especially one that raises money for ESRA's special program for disabled youngsters in Kfar Shmaryahu. The annual and popular National Quiz draws participants from branches all over the country. Chaired by Glenis Bertfield, this mind-twister of an evening is a sure winner for laughs and fun, not to mention a severe test of our memories. One thing is sure though, the National Quiz promises to challenge even the most hardened contestant.
If none of the above whets your appetite, there are still many other activities you can join, which are arranged by local branches: movie and book clubs, knitting and crocheting, meet and greet, brunch and lunch clubs, and so on. All you need to do is run your eye down the many options offered in the ESRA Magazine on pages 6 and 9. If you don't yet, but wish to, receive notifications about our activities and interest groups, kindly contact the National Office in Herzliya at09 950 8371. Similarly, if you wish to not only participate but also join the ESRA Family and become a member, you can do so easily online on ESRA's website at www.esra.org.il. Members receive an automatic 30% discount for all activities.
Whether you wish to register for membership or participate in any ESRA activity at any time simply requires either one phone call, or a click on your keyboard. Then, get ready, get set, and GO!