When my husband and I retired from our jobs about eight years ago (mine as Translator and Editor-in-Chief of English-Language Publications at the Bank of Israel, his as a senior engineer in Intel) we found that some of our spare time could be usefully spent by volunteering at the Israel Museum. We both entered what was then known as the Hosts program, in which we served as mobile information purveyors to visitors to the Museum.
Over the years the nature of our volunteering work changed as the Museum grew and developed. We remained at our posts as the extensive renovations went ahead, then accepted our new duties – mine as a Team Captain at the Information Desks, Yigal’s first in the Restoration Laboratory then in the Israeli Art Information Center. In both departments his work was highly valued, and both of us were happy and proud to be contributing to one of Israel’s foremost cultural institutions.
Our association with the Museum was on the whole enjoyable. It connected us with other volunteers, who tended to be nice, intelligent people, as well as with visitors, who were generally pleasant to talk to and appreciated our assistance. The volunteers in charge of the various activities were usually congenial and helpful, without being too obtrusive. Nobody knew exactly how and why this person or that was nominated for whichever managerial task among the cadre of volunteers, but this hardly concerned us as we continued to perform our functions to what seemed to be general satisfaction.
But about a year ago things changed. A new person was appointed to head the volunteers’ activities. Little by little, the atmosphere changed as tales began to circulate about insulting remarks he had made to one person or another, volunteers who had been dismissed on flimsy grounds, and a deterioration in the general atmosphere. I found it hard to believe that he had actually told one of my fellow team-mates, a Ph.D. who had called the office to get some information, that she ‘was devoid of intelligence,’ and did my utmost to dissuade her from resigning.
Then I heard from another member of my team that he had spoken to her in a rather rude fashion when she told him she was unable to attend a meeting he had set at a time that clashed with some other regular activity of hers.
The incidents continued to accumulate. Another team-mate, this one also a Ph.D., was asked to prepare a series of three lectures for volunteers, the first one to be given in another week. After working long and hard preparing the material she was told in a casual conversation that her lectures had been cancelled. No reason or explanation was given. My colleague was initially very hurt and insulted, as is only natural, but then decided very nobly that she was actually rather relieved.
Other colleagues were told after many years of devoted service to the Museum that their services were no longer required because they were too old. Too old! If only young people had the time and resources to devote to volunteering that would, of course, be ideal. But unfortunately it’s usually only possible to volunteer when one is no longer working in paid employment.
The last straw for me was when my husband was told by the ‘Volunteers Council,’ an unelected body of appointees, that his volunteering services would no longer be required. Outrageous calumnies and the distortion of facts were given as grounds for this decision. My husband is a person of absolute integrity and has a strong character that is outstanding in its honesty and decency (yes, of course I’m biased), and it seems that these qualities were not to the liking of the people heading the volunteers organization.
And so, in protest at the way my husband has been treated, I have resigned from my position as a volunteer in the Israel Museum. And so has at least one other member of our team.
Our association with the Museum has not ended, as we will continue to renew our membership annually and enjoy the exhibitions and events held there. We are both busy with many other activities, but it was not in this way that we wished to end our years of volunteering at the Israel Museum..