Richard Markus has been volunteering for years. He remembers being in high school when he started fundraising for the United Jewish Welfare Fund. “We had cards with the names of people to contact. We’d report in to places like at the JCC before a certain deadline. Lucky for me, I always work well under deadlines.”
And lucky for us, his volunteering continues to this day. In addition to his work through the Federation, Richard volunteers for the Isaiah House, offering compassionate care to the terminally ill, and he chairs Rochester's Child, serving early education needs for inner-city kids. He also tutors elementary school children at School 35 in the city.
“I’ve been fortunate to be in a position to do the things I do,” Richard says. “I'm blessed with the resources I have. But I’ve also come to believe that I’m in this world to make life easier for other people.”
One of Richard’s most memorable volunteer experiences came about in the early 1990’s when as the chair of Rochester’s Operation Exodus committee, he had the opportunity to visit a small Jewish village in the mountains of Azerbaijan. A few years before, in 1987, he had been part of the Rochester contingent taking part in the UJA Federation’s March on Washington, where over a quarter of a million people gathered to call for freedom for Soviet Jews. Azerbaijan was a predominantly Muslim republic in the Soviet Union, and by the time Richard traveled there, nearly a third of Azerbaijani Jews had already been resettled in Israel or the United States.
As Richard tells it, “Jews had inhabited that region since the century after the destruction of the first temple, when instead of returning to Canaan like other exiled Jews who were finally permitted to leave Babylon, they migrated north instead and settled in the mountains of Azerbaijan.” And visiting their remote villages was no easy feat. “We were on a Russian helicopter that vibrated so badly, you had to wonder how it was going to last for the hour it took to travel up into the mountains. And the villages themselves were like something out of Fiddler on the Roof—no electricity, no paved roads, no indoor plumbing. I’ll never forget that sight, as we got out of the helicopter, of all these children running to us, shouting Shalom! Shalom! These were Jews who wanted a future for their kids and it was humbling to know that I was involved in helping to make it happen.”
With so much variety of volunteering experiences over the years—both locally and internationally—Richard has some great insight for anybody looking to get into volunteering for the first time.
“I believe we're here to grow spiritually and serving others fits in beautifully with that belief,” Richard says. “In fact, giving of your time for somebody else, doing something for someone else, is actually what life is all about.”