We couldn’t do what we do without the help of our incredible volunteers. We are going to start recognizing them periodically in our volunteer spotlight! This month we are highlighting Benjamin Krumstok. We asked Benjamin a couple questions about what has shaped his volunteer experience and life in general.
1. How did you first get involved with TOV/JUF?
I volunteered for the first time at the Uptown Café at the original site around Sheridan and Irving Park. Word of mouth…it was something that people at the synagogue were doing, it seemed worthwhile, potentially rewarding, and was close to home. That was either later 1999 or early 2000. I went with a group from Anshe Sholom Bnai Israel. After several years of doing that it became difficult to be included in that group (I couldn’t commit early enough). I then went occasionally on my own. Later, for several years, I coordinated a group of volunteers who would come from Anshe Emet monthly. I passed that baton to someone else at the synagogue after a while and then continued volunteering on my own and off of the emergency volunteer list. I now come almost monthly with the group from Anshe Sholom Bnai Israel and try to snatch up the opportunities off of the emergency list when I can.
2. Why do you enjoy volunteering?
I have enjoyed the relationships I have made with the patrons over the years. The faces, life experiences, and circumstances of the people can be so different but we are all united by a common humanity. I enjoy the fact that for the hour or so that we are together the patrons are the empowered and are in a safe space (things they might not experience the rest of the day). The Café/EZRA/TOV staff do all the heavy lifting and planning; I have the chance each night to just enjoy interacting with the people. I’m a little bit of a competitive volunteer! My goal each night is to see that the patrons at my table are served most efficiently…catch me if you can! I prowl my area and attend to other tables on occasion, not because other volunteers haven’t kept up…but because I know patrons at many of the other tables and am looking for any opportunity to interact with them as well. Some of the patrons had tremendous successes and achieved amazing things earlier in life…only to have a range of circumstances or conditions change their life course. It’s a humbling reminder that everybody could be at risk, in spite of success and comfortable conditions today.
3. Any fun facts about yourself that we might not know?
I love biking and whenever the weather and time allow (really folks…you are brave to bike in the winter…but that’s not me) you will find me on the lakefront trail. I enjoy discovering and exploring the different neighborhoods of Chicago. In the summer I love a good Shabbos nap on the deck (a neighbor once told me that you can see my hammock when you look the address up on Google Earth). One summer on staff at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin I rented SCUBA gear and pulled the weeds up from a large percent of the swimming area. Pulling was easy but I forgot that we’d have to clean the stuff up when it washed ashore…THAT was a bigger job! I think that the number of fish bites suffered by swimmers decreased for a little while after that (few hiding places for the little guys to lurk).
4. Who or what inspires you?
So many influences. Mostly family who have been wonderful teachers and influences. I’m very often inspired by TED Talks speakers (not all…some people do crazy things and live to tell about it); sometimes they help me to wonder “how” and not “if” or “why.”
We want to thank Benjamin for his dedication, commitment, and passion for volunteering that we are lucky enough to be a part of!