Avi Kroll: Volunteering is as fun as playing ball

SAR alum hosts 'sports day' for Jerusalem kids after COVID cancels Hanukkah

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It’s hard to find someone attending high school or college not participating in some sort of community service. Whether it’s at a nursing home, soup kitchen or hospital, they sacrifice time to help others.

Avi Kroll is no exception. The SAR High School alum volunteered to make a difference in his community. But not here in Riverdale where he grew up, but instead an ocean or so away in Israel.

Like many SAR graduates, Kroll spent a year before college studying the Torah and exploring Israel.

“We’re very connected to it,” Kroll said of the country. “So, learning there is very special for us.”

During that time, Kroll joined the Yeshiva Aish HaTorah’s Aish Gesher program, which not only helped him better focus his Judaic studies, but also gave him a chance to give back a little through visits to the Sanhedria Children’s Home, designed for at-risk youth in Jerusalem.

Kroll and his Aish Gesher classmates first visited the home to celebrate Hanukkah in a party that included food, prizes and dancing in 2019.

Kroll “was like a ball of fire,” said Miriam Braun, the children’s home director. “He got everybody up and moving and dancing and shaking. He was really the livewire — amongst the livewires — of the evening. And it was just very obvious how good he was with the kids, and how excited he was to be there, and the thrill he brought to the evening.”

And while that moment served mainly to bring joy for those involved, Kroll also established a relationship with Braun — who has spent the last 18 years at the children’s home — where they kept in touch.

After the gap year, Kroll enrolled in Yeshiva University in Manhattan. But he decided he wanted to spend more time in Israel, returning to Aish Gesher program for “shana bet” — its second-year learning program. It was there he earned college credit for his freshman year at Yeshiva.

By the time he arrived, however, the world had shut down in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. All the plans Kroll had — especially a Hanukkah celebration with the Sanhedria kids — were out the window.

Still, Kroll kept in contact with Braun. Around Passover, Kroll found himself on a much-needed break. And instead of simply doing nothing, he reached out to Braun with an idea on how to make up Hanukkah with the kids there.

“There’s a lot of things we could’ve done,” Kroll said. “We could’ve traveled, this and that. But me — and my friends as well — agreed we wanted to do something more meaningful with our time.”

That’s why Kroll, 20, and his friends decided to host a “sports day.” There, they gave the Sanhedria kids new soccer balls and helped the young athletes break them in on the pitch. Kroll played sports growing up — and still does — and hoped it was the kind of thing the kids might enjoy, too .

Spoiler alert: they did.

It was a hot day, so Braun got everyone organized, handed out water bottles, and then went inside.

“I hate getting hit in the head by the ball,” she said. “These are children. Here you are. There are soccer balls. Go do your thing and just call me later and let me know how it went.”

A few hours later, Braun checked in with Kroll and was delighted to find out how wonderfully the day had gone. But she was also in for a funny surprise.

Those water bottles she provided? Well, rather than drinking them, the students and children had a water fight to cool off after the game.

“They had really a very, very awesome afternoon,” Braun said. “It was very heartwarming to see. The kids were so grateful after a long winter with no volunteers that these guys would come and do what they love — to play ball.”

The day was not only memorable for the children, but Kroll, too. He loves to help people who are less fortunate no matter where they’re from or the problems they face.

This commitment has been a part of Kroll’s character for quite a while, he said. In fact, his father Jonathan Kroll — SAR’s principal — said Avi loved to volunteer while he was in high school. That included working  with families of autistic children in New York, and even volunteering at another children’s home in Israel outside of Sanhedria.

“He really enjoyed doing it,” Jonathan Kroll said. “He gave up a lot of his time to do it.”

In addition to the people he helps, Avi Kroll even finds ways to inspire his father.

Volunteering and community service have been staples in Kroll’s life, and he plans to continue helping others in the future. He even hopes he can return to Sanhedria to visit the kids once again.

“They obviously have programs (run) there, but they don’t get exposed to a bunch of excited American 20-year-old guys who are full of energy and love,” Kroll said. “Really, (the kids) seemed like they were on cloud nine.”

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