Volunteers are critical to the life of religious communities. Using their unique gifts and talents during their spare time, volunteers help to manifest the values and carry out the priorities of the community. Volunteers may be involved in everything from advising professional clergy on administrative matters to rolling up their sleeves and helping with building improvements and beautification. Most synagogue events and religious activities would not be able to get off the ground without significant contributions of labor, time, and knowledge made by volunteers. For bikkur holim, too, volunteers are absolutely essential. As we learned in unit 1, all Jews, not just clergy, have an important part to play in caring for vulnerable members of the community.

Despite the importance of bikkur holim and the best intentions of community members, some congregations struggle with either recruiting or retaining volunteers for this mitzvah. A common reason for this is that volunteers are very busy and may be concerned they don’t have enough time to devote to bikkur holim. One way to address this is to clarify the expectations for bikkur holim volunteers in your community, and to share this information when doing recruitment. For example, exactly how much time is required to make a meaningful impact? Usually there is a range of volunteer involvement—some folks offer several hours each week to making home visits, while others might devote an hour or so every other week to making phone calls. It is important to let volunteers know that their efforts are appreciated and make a difference, no matter how much time they devote.

With regard to retention, it can be helpful to understand what motivates volunteers, both in general and for the individuals in your community. Create opportunities for volunteers to share with you and one another why they chose to volunteer and what they hope to give and get from doing so. This information is valuable because it can help you to make more appropriate and satisfying bikkur holim assignments. You can check in with volunteers regularly about whether or not their goals are being met, and make adjustments.

These resources offer some insights into more general theories about why Jews A bookvolunteer:

As we can see from those two articles, Jewish teaching and values aren’t always the primary motivation for volunteerism. Yet for others, Jewish resources, like this excerpt from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, inspire them to devote their free time to helping others.

In the essence of the foundational root of this people [the People Israel]. . . is revealed in the aspiration to create a great human collective that shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment (Genesis 18:19). This is the aspirationbuilt upon a clear and mighty consciousness and the highest and most inclusive moral imperativeto redeem humanity from the horrific burdens of spiritual and material sorrow, and to achieve for her a life of freedom filled with dignified glory and refined pleasure, in the light of the Divine Ideal, in order to achieve success for the human project in its totality.

—Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Orot[i]

  • Image of a head with a question mark inside.In the excerpt above, Rav Kook writes about the “aspiration . . . to redeem humanity” and “to achieve . . . a life of freedom.” How does this relate to the two articles that you read before this excerpt, about patterns of volunteering among Jews?
  • To what causes do people in your community volunteer their time?
  • Do you see patterns in the volunteering in your community? Have they changed over time? Why? Are there different causes now that draw people? If so, what are they?
  • Is there a general decline or increase in volunteering?
  • What motivates members of your bikkur holim group to volunteer with that and not with another group dedicated to helping people in need?

[i] Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Orot, (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1989), 104, translated by Shaiya Rothberg, humanrightstorah.org.

Previous Page Unit 1: Bikkur Holim as Mitzvah                                             Unit 3: What’s in a Name? Next Page