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Peace Corps at 50 draws volunteers over 50
by Leslie Berliant
L.A. Jewish Journal
Feb 27, 2011 | 2782 views | 9 9 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<i>Peace Corps<br>Lillian Mizrahi, left, one of many Peace Corps volunteers over age 50, poses with her Macedonian host "mother" -- who is younger than Mizrahi. </i>
Peace Corps
Lillian Mizrahi, left, one of many Peace Corps volunteers over age 50, poses with her Macedonian host "mother" -- who is younger than Mizrahi.
slideshow
LOS ANGELES -- Lillian Mizrahi is not your typical Peace Corps volunteer.

A Jewish woman from the Bronx who is now 69 years old, Mizrahi first considered joining 40 years ago, when she moved to Los Angeles from New York, but her life got busy with children and a career.

“Two years ago, I got a postcard that said, ‘Baby Boomers, we want you,’ ” said Mizrahi, who worked as a talent executive with E! for nine years.

She attended a few Peace Corps meetings, even bringing along a friend who went on to volunteer in South Africa. “I took the steps thinking somewhere along the way it wouldn’t work, but it worked,” Mizrahi said.

With her children grown, Mizrahi felt it was the right time to help restore America’s former good image abroad. She was sent to Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, where she now works with KONEKT, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to increase philanthropy among Macedonians. She also tutors adults in English.

“I’ve been here 17 months, and it’s a wonderful experience,” Mizrahi said in a phone interview.

On March 1, the Peace Corps will commemorate 50 years of promoting peace and friendship around the world. Events will be held around the United States throughout the year.

The program, which was started in 1961 through an executive order issued by President Kennedy, traces its roots to a 1960 challenge from then-Sen. Kennedy to the students at the University of Michigan to serve their country by living and working in developing countries. The Peace Corps’ purpose is to promote peace and friendship by sharing skills, helping promote a better understanding of Americans and helping Americans develop a better understanding of other people.

More than 200,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 139 countries. Mizrahi is among the 7 percent of current Peace Corps volunteers who are older than 50.

“They are encouraging more seniors to join because of their wealth of experience,” she said.

Although she had offered to take an assignment in a rural community because of her prior experience living on a kibbutz, Mizrahi says the placement in a city ended up being a perfect fit.

In Skopje, Mizrahi is also part of a small Jewish community made up of Americans, Israelis and Macedonians. She has held seders, and this winter she hosted a large Chanukah party. Mizrahi attends holiday services at the local Jewish community center, and she will be there for the March 7 opening of the Macedonia Holocaust Museum, which has been in the works for 10 years.

Funding for the museum has come primarily from a special fund created in 2000 from the assets of Macedonian Jewish families who perished in the Holocaust and left no heirs. Additional funding comes from Israel and the United States.

Mizrahi said joining the Peace Corps after working in entertainment was like “going from the ridiculous to the sublime.” She said, “TV is a young people’s business.”

Mizrahi says she loves the Robin Hood concept of taking from the rich to give to the poor.

“In the Peace Corps, we take trained individuals and give them to the untrained to transfer skills which will still be there after [they’ve] left,” she said.

So far, Mizrahi has helped organize a philanthropy conference for the Balkan region, an Earth Day celebration, harvest festivals and 5K runs. She also has helped with a spelling bee and a Habitat for Humanity building project.

The Peace Corps provides Mizrahi with an apartment and a stipend for living expenses. Mizrahi says her son and daughter share her sense of adventure and are proud of her, and that being so far away is made easier with technology like Skype and e-mail.

Mizrahi says she hopes the Peace Corps has a long future, and without hesitation she encourages other older adults to join. She says people should think about what they could handle and where they will be comfortable, but ultimately the organization does a good job of making a match.

“If you want to do it, it’s a wonderful experience,” she said. “And your kids will be impressed with you.”
Comments
(9)
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Laurence12
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February 28, 2011
@ History Buff

First of all to begin with, it's an obvious and recorded fact that Macedonians (during the time known as Southern Serbs) fought alongside Serbian troops against Nazis, as Partisans....so attempting to turn the racial hatred on me and claiming that my comments are "disgusting" toward those who fought the Nazis is not only offensive, but uneducated considering what I have stated has nothing in offence to anyone but YOU, which I have no shame for. Not to mention the fact that modern day Macedonians have the right to call themselves Macedonians, and if anyone has a problem with that they can negotiate within international politicians. If you wish to do so aswell, go ahead....though it doesn't seem like a human being of your status wouldn't progress far.
History Buff
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February 27, 2011
@Laurence12

Perhaps you missed it the first time. What you call "ethnic Macedonians" used to freely self-identify as ethnic Bulgarians.

At last check the right to self-identification does not include the right to take someone else's away. How would anyone Jewish feel if it had been members of Hamas renaming themselves "ethnic Hasimonians", an Arabic dialect the "Hasimonian language', and declaring a large section of Israel occupied?

I do not blame Lillian for her kindness towards others but your attitude is a disgusting inversion of morality. It spits in memory of those that fought Nazis and rewards the persecutors of Jews.

Laurence12
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February 27, 2011
@ History Buff

Once again I will say this, because two times has not seemed enough.....THAT what you have just responded to me, highlights the racial hatred which has NOTHING to do with the article. Become a polition.
Laurence12
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February 27, 2011
@ History Buff

Yes, you have explained how you do not intend to offend Lilian, although the extended section of what you have said has no relation to the article. Your racial hatred toward the Macedonian ethnic group is not only pointless in response to this article, but surely offensive. Furthermore, what I am trying to say is....if you'd like to comment on the article, may it be in good taste. If you want to publish "racial opinions", you should look into politics as a carreer.
History Buff
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February 27, 2011
Incidentally the criticism was not meant as an offense to Lillian. The point was squarely aimed at the former self-identifying ethnic Bulgarians of the former Yugoslav republic. (who encourage their citizens to see someone else's nation as "occupied" through manipulation of the name "macedonia").

History Buff
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February 27, 2011
Self-righteous straw-man nonsense by those unfamiliar with the issues. Of course I don't object to people helping people. I do however object when such venues are simply a smokescreen to push the hateful agenda of extremist nationalists.

While it might make some uncomfortable to discuss the events I mention happen. Its unfortunate some want to sweep the issues under the rug. (I also makes me question the ethics of those trying to hide such information)

"This (US) government considers talk of Macedonian “nation,” Macedonian “Fatherland,” or Macedonian “national consciousness” to be unjustified demagoguery representing no ethnic nor political reality, and sees in its present revival a possible cloak for aggressive intentions against Greece." - US State Department 1944

http://www.panmacedonian.info/images/Stettinius_Circular_Airgram.jpg

Laurence12
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February 27, 2011
@ History Buff

Nobody cares about your obvious negative racial attitude towards Macedonia and the Macedonian ethnic group. Your comment was irrelevant to the article and completely pointless. If you consider commenting again, please may it be constructive.

Well done to Lillian Mizrahi, may she prosper in a great step forward for the Jewish community in the Republic of Macedonia.
Leonard 47
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February 27, 2011
@ “History Buff”

Here is a great article of fellow human beings helping other human beings (essentially highlighting true human spirit and all that is good in this world as was intended, among other things, by President Kennedy), irrelevant of ethnicity and other categories one might consider. Yet here you spread filth and post various things irrelevant to the article, whilst simultaneously degrading a whole nation and its people simply because they identify themselves in a particular way. I think you are a sick person who has neither morals nor any sense of human dignity, so go back to whatever whole you came out of and stay there – for the betterment of mankind.

History Buff
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February 27, 2011
Little known fact "Macedonia" is not actually physically located in the original Macedonia (located in Greece). The modern people that live in what what once was primarily part of the ancient Paeonia in antiquity used to self-identify as ethnic Bulgarians in the 19th century.

Unlike Greece that fought that Axis forces, the leadership of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) allied with their Bulgarian cousins and the Axis during the early part of WW2. (only switching when Bulgaria did-when the war appeared lost)

http://www.i-macedonia.com/blog/files/FYROM_NAZI.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Mihailov#1934_-_1944

In an effort to "unite Macedonia" they participated in occupation of Macedonia Greece. Ohrana detachments (that included large numbers of Bulgarians who today call themselves "Macedonians") were involved in one of the regions with the highest percentage of Jews killed

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohrana

Subsequent to the war, America used to maintain there was no such thing as an "ethnic Macedonian" or "Macedonia". (a nationality created by earlier Yugoslav and Bulgarian communists to lay claim to Greece for Pan-Slavism)

http://www.panmacedonian.info/images/Stettinius_Circular_Airgram.jpg

It's unfortunate the Peace Corps is being manipulated by extreme nationalists from the former Yugoslav republic. It does itself, America, and NATO ally Greece a disservice by helping the side that fought for Nazis during WW2.