A group of young immigrants living in Tel Aviv are asking not only what their new city can do for them, but also what they can do for their city. Determined to contribute to their new home, they have joined the Civil Guard, the volunteer arm of the Israel Police.
The members of the first-ever immigrant cohort of the Civil Guard graduated from their basic training course last Thursday at a ceremony held in Tel Aviv City Hall and attended by some of the city’s top brass. While individual immigrants have volunteered for the Civil Guard (the largest volunteer body in Israel, with 100,000 members) since its inception in 1974, this marked the first time that an organized group went through the training together.
The volunteer program, called “Olim B’madim” (Immigrants in Uniform), is an initiative of TLV Internationals, an organization that seeks to engage young professional immigrants in Tel Aviv with one another, the city and society at large.
“The idea for ‘Olim B’madim’ came up about a year ago,” said Jonathan Javor, a TLV Internationals leader who not only got the course off the ground, but who also took part in it. “We wanted to find a way that olim [immigrants] could give back. Tel Aviv is not just a place to live. It’s a home.”
“We are always trying to come up with programs that a bit different, and this is definitely different,” he said.
While some of the 15 volunteers did not do Israeli military service and consider their volunteering for the Civil Guard as a way of serving the country, there are members of the group who did serve in the IDF.
Danielle Sheldon, who immigrated to Israel from Los Angeles in 2008 and was an officer in the Israeli army, joined on because she loved the idea of immigrants giving back to the city, especially in a security-related manner.
Sheldon, 26, has been impressed by the devotion and professionalism of both the police officers and the veteran volunteers who led the course.
“The police have absolutely been getting a bad rap,” she said in regard to several police scandals that have recently been in the spotlight.
“Despite what you hear in the news, Israeli police officers and the volunteers are devoted to protecting the citizens.”
The admiration between the immigrant volunteers and the police officers is mutual. Mirit Hadar, an officer from the Tel Aviv North police station who commanded the training course, said she was impressed by the volunteers’ serious attitude.
“They were amazing. From their attitude and their tenacity, you could see how important this was for them,” she told The Times of Israel before the course graduates, hailing from the UK, the US, Canada, South Africa, Switzerland, Germany and France, received their certificates.
The volunteers, having completed 24 hours of training on everything from police ethics and traffic regulations, to procedures for searches and evidence collection, will now ride along with police officers for several months on patrols from four different Tel Aviv police stations. Only once they have passed that stage will they be allowed to wear uniforms during their four-hour shifts, which they will be required to do at least once per month.
Harriet Shakked, 27, had thought about being a police officer when she was growing up in London, but she ended up becoming a teacher and then a hi-tech professional. She’s glad to have the opportunity to serve in the Civil Guard in Tel Aviv, where she arrived two years ago with her husband Jacob, who went through the course as well.
Jacob Shakked, also 27, said he liked learning things that he would never have known about as a mere civilian living in Tel Aviv. He looks forward to advancing his Civil Guard training and hopefully learning more about detective work and what the police diving unit does.
“All paths in the Civil Guard are open to them,” Hadar said of the volunteers, who had to meet specific criteria and demonstrate a command of Hebrew before being accepted to the initial training course.
As this first group starts their next stage in the Civil Guard, TLV Internationals is already recruiting a second cohort of immigrant volunteers.
During the graduation ceremony, Tel Aviv deputy mayor Asaf Zamir spoke about how critical the Civil Guard’s support is at a time when Tel Aviv’s fast-paced growth is leading to an increase in petty crime.
Police Superintendant Hezi Shkuri, in charge of the Civil Guard and community policing for the Tel Aviv district, told the young, enthusiastic immigrants they were indeed needed. However, he also emphasized what the new Israelis themselves will get out of their Civil Guard service.
“You will get to know Tel Aviv from a different perspective — for good and for bad,” he said. “You’ll lose your naïveté.”
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