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İsrail-Hamas müharibəsi

Israel-Hamas war: Israelis volunteer, find ways to help war effort – Israel News

From as far back as America’s Civil War, volunteering during wartime meant rolling bandages and folding gauze for dressings. In Israel in 2023, volunteering takes on a whole new meaning. 

Even when things were peaceful, Israel has always been an exciting place to volunteer. Seniors painted army barracks, people packed food for the poor, and fruits and vegetables are always ripe for picking. Now, with so many reservists called to the front, tighter regulations on who can and cannot work in Jewish areas, and with foreign workers being called back to their home countries, the war has created extraordinary volunteer opportunities. 

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In fact, in terms of choices, the sky’s the limit for anyone who can find time to spare.

“Almost every second Israeli has been a volunteer since the beginning of the war,” says Leora Arnon, manager of the Innovation Unit for The Israeli Council for Volunteering. “About half of the emergency volunteers also volunteer regularly, and the rest are new volunteers.”

The CEO of the Israeli Council for Volunteering, Ronit Bar, states that “in a reality where 350,000 citizens have been drafted into the reserves, the education system operates very partially, and there are hundreds of thousands of evacuees, a volunteering rate of almost 50% is an impressive figure, which teaches a lot about Israeli society.”

TZEDEK FARM: Volunteer to be a shepherd. (credit: TZEDEK FARM)

“This reflects exceptional solidarity among the Israeli public,” says Galia Feit, executive director of the Institute for Law and Philanthropy at Buchmann Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University.

The scope of volunteer opportunities that were available before the war has expanded greatly, as volunteers are needed almost everywhere. People from all over the world with any talent or interest can share their expertise in many ways.


Made in the USA: Knit hats

It doesn’t take a huge slice of time to volunteer. It’s something you can do in your downtime, even as you sit in front of your television set. Lin Goldkrantz, a New Jersey fitness trainer, Reiki master, and therapy dog handler, loves to crochet. 

As soon as she heard about the war, she purchased appropriate supplies, and her busy hands went into action. Connected on social media to other volunteers, she sent her first shipment of crocheted hats, as well as some tourniquets, to a relative who posted on Facebook a wish list of items to go to Israeli soldiers. Lin is working on a new batch of hats as this is being written.

Herding the flock

Miriam Lottner is the VP of customer experience at a start-up company and an energetic entrepreneur who has invented and manufactures games and toys. She is also an ardent volunteer – and she always wanted to be a shepherd.

“I used to donate my time to charities, and I would take photos for them in scenic places all over Israel,” Lottner says. “In one of the forests I photographed there were Arab shepherds, and our common language was my love of goats. I took pictures of newborn goats. I always wanted to be a shepherd and to have a flock, but who can afford to be a shepherd in today’s housing market?”

So when the passionate volunteer who has already volunteered during this war as a social media fact-checker, a cook, a baker, a vegetable harvester, and a supply packer saw a call on a Facebook group for volunteer shepherds at the Tzedek family-run farm Chavat Alah in Lachish, she not only signed up but also invited her women friends from Facebook to volunteer as well. A natural problem solver, Lottner used her expertise in manufacturing and dealing with China to bring protective masks to 17 hospitals during the COVID crisis.

She says that volunteering helps her feel like a part of Jewish history.

“I came here at 19 from America, with no background, knowing nothing about Israel, but I had to figure it out,” she recalls. “I feel very much a part of this country. Twice I missed the number 18 bus in Jerusalem, right before it was blown up. War is terrible, and none of us want it. I tried to join the IDF back then, but in those days they didn’t have ways to allow me to join.

“When I saw a call for shepherds, I said, ‘I can walk five to seven kilometers at an easy pace,’ so I signed up,” she recounts. “Herding goats is a natural way to reconnect with the land and to enable people to be outside in nature and find peace and calm. The massacre took place outside in a nature center. The people who lived in the Gaza envelope were all connected to the land. Many were farmers, attached to this country. Through shepherding, we can reclaim our inner peace,” she says.

Other family farms across the country also need volunteer shepherds, but I’m told that the rosters fill up fast. Lottner is currently wait-listed for her volunteer slot.

Mornings in the coop

If you’ve always wondered which came first, the chicken or the egg, early-morning work volunteer opportunities abound at chicken farm Ramat Raziel (20 minutes from downtown Jerusalem) and Mesillat Tzion (near Beit Shemesh).

The farm found itself without workers after October 7, and the family has been running the operation solo. Small groups of volunteers are needed to collect some 20,000 eggs from the chicken coop at 8 a.m. at the latest (chickens lay eggs early in the morning) and clean them when they come off a conveyor belt. Transportation will be made available for groups of two to five.

To sign up for a specific day, including Friday mornings, call Karen at 052-884-9455.

Mr. or Ms. Gadget: This one’s for you

Yad Sarah, the home and healthcare organization, one of Israel’s largest volunteer organizations, with a regular contingent of over 7,000 volunteers, has lent out over 46,000 pieces of medical equipment to many who have been wounded and displaced since the war began. 

Before lending out any equipment, Yad Sarah needs to clean, sterilize, and ensure that the piece is in good condition and safe to use. Volunteers can help with sterilization and basic maintenance at one of Yad Sarah’s many repair workshops (Jerusalem, Modi’in, Rishon Lezion, Ra’anana, Haifa, and Beersheba), as well as 98 other Yad Sarah branches around the country. Contact: Yehudit Benedict: [email protected]; (02) 644-4416.

Yad Sarah has workshops for assembling equipment such as crutches and walkers. These workshops can be done individually or as a group at the Yad Sarah HQ in Jerusalem. To coordinate a session at the workshop, contact the visitor center at (02) 644-4687.

Since the war began, there has also been an increasing need for drivers who can deliver medication and other urgent equipment. Yad Sarah has recruited 350 reinforcement drivers since October 7 but can always use more licensed drivers willing to use their own vehicles for this voluntary service. If you’d like to volunteer as a temporary driver, contact Yaron Aviv, national coordinator of volunteer drivers, at 053-722-4747.

Aharon Alan Newman and his wife, Sherri Zaslow, were volunteers from Baltimore who, although not “fix-it” experts, decided to lend a helping hand on their recent trip to Israel. One of their stops took them to Yad Sarah, where at one of the workshops they helped clean and repair equipment, priming each device for its next use.

Fashion designers

If you have a penchant for creating, designing, or sewing, you might want to lend your talents to the IDF through a program administered by a graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design.

Shelly Boneh, who is doing her master’s in industrial design research, is working as a medical device designer, as well as designing 3D structures to restore coral to Eilat reefs. On October 7, she realized that her background as an industrial designer could help the army when her boyfriend was recruited to his special unit and found that they didn’t have exactly what they needed in the field. During her own military service, she had designed items for the IDF. 

She quickly recruited 10 volunteers to take orders from soldiers and design, sketch, cut, and sew custom creations, ranging from vest add-ons and gun bags to soft stretchers – all retrofitted to make soldiers’ battlefield experiences easier. 

Bezalel Academy’s beautiful new Jerusalem facility houses this volunteer effort, which has grown to almost 300 volunteers who work in multiple rooms to fill the orders as quickly as the army requests items.

“Even if people don’t know how to sew, it’s okay,” says Boneh. “This is holy work. Our items get to people in the field, and we turn over the work quickly because in war, every minute counts.”

So far, the design group has created 4,000 items, including a stretcher that is lightweight and easy to place in a backpack but strong enough to carry a wounded soldier.

“We’ve designed grenade holders for ceramic vests,” Boneh says. “Every day, we turn out 200. Each item must get army approval. We’ve also created special bags – Packal – that sit on the soldiers’ legs. We have made 1,000 of those so far.”

Boneh says that in addition to turning out essential items, at least one new special project gets addressed each day. For information or to join the team, call 054-586-1995.

Architects, interior designers, & contractors

If you are a professional willing to volunteer your time to reconstructing homes that were destroyed in the Gaza envelope, there is, unfortunately, plenty of work to be done. In fact, a number of organizations and groups of architects, interior designers, and contractors have emerged to address the many needs of people who lost their homes in the terror rampage.

Tenufa Bakehila is an organization that helps rebuild lives through urgent home repairs and personal family advocacy. All renovations are carried out by Tenufa Bakehila’s professionals.

“Since the beginning of the war, we transferred all our 11 work teams into emergency work teams,” explains Gabi Nachmani, CEO and founder of Tenufa Bakehila. “In light of the poor condition of hundreds of bomb shelters within missile range in the South and in the North, we immediately started repairing them. To date, we repaired over 200 bomb shelters in seven cities. We carry out extensive repairs using professional workers, while supplying all the necessary equipment for the shelters, such as water tanks, emergence lights, electrical systems, toilet pumps, and many more items which are costly. We are always looking for professional volunteers.

“In Ashkelon, we have over 100 bomb shelters to build, and professionals have come forward to help us. We welcome more such volunteers.”

With many building projects grounded due to the challenge of finding available construction workers, Nina Anders, an architect from Modi’in, and fellow architect/interior designer Deborah Solomon, responded to a call for architects and interior designers willing to donate their time to the rebuilding effort. Through a building industry contact, they met mortgage broker Dani Schecter, one of the crew leaders for Grilling for IDF, which brings barbecues to soldiers, and now to displaced families. 

A friend had told Schecter about Rachel Edri and her husband, David, whose home needed repair. Rachel is the woman who famously fed five hungry terrorists and kept them hostage for 20 hours until special forces came in, neutralized the terrorists, and rescued the couple.

“At first, I thought it would just need a coat of paint, but it looked like World War III took place in their living room,” describes Schecter. 

But once there, he saw that the once cozy home was riddled with bullet holes, hand grenade hollows, gunpowder residue, blood splatter, and broken furniture.

“The family had been evacuated and traumatized. It was lucky that anyone made it out of that house alive. Anders and Solomon suggested that we take a broader scope to turn it into more than just one home renovation. That we help as many people as we can,” he says.

They named the new organization Yachad Nivneh (Together We Will Build) – to tie in with Yachad Ninatzeach (Together We Will Win) – the Swords of Iron slogan. 

Accessible design being one of the strengths of their new enterprise, Saage Architecture, Anders and Solomon are combining their talents, which together include designing residential homes, kitchens, medical facilities, synagogues, and mikvaot (ritual baths) to create the designs, obtain permits, and help gather donations to fund the renovations.

“We need to completely redo Rachel’s home,” says Anders. “We are looking for volunteers to do the work, in-kind contributions, and donations to pay for materials. The first order of business is to procure permits to build shelters, either internal or external. While many of the kibbutzim have twinned with communities outside of Israel, cities like Ofakim are on their own.”

Volunteer your pooch

With so many fathers away in the army, and traumatized and wounded Israelis at home and in hospitals all over the country, even your dog can get into volunteer mode.

Ruby, an Australian Shepherd, has become a fixture every morning at the bus stop in Karnei Shomron. She waits patiently with her owner, enjoying all the love bestowed on her and numerous belly rubs until the last busload of children have said goodbye to her and climbed on the final bus of the morning. While Ruby is not a guard dog, she keeps a careful eye on the students (as well as encroaching cats), providing affection, comfort, and support to children who enjoy all the happy hormones released by petting a loving dog.

In Yakir, a therapy group of dogs and their owners is being assembled to visit the recently wounded and traumatized.

Yael Eidelberg, one of the coordinators, explains: “We are looking for dogs that can go from rest mode to work mode really fast. They should be calm around other dogs and around crowds, and they shouldn’t be sensitive to unusual (hospital) smells and noise.”

After the group is assembled, the dogs will be evaluated to see how they react to each other and will be prepared for going on excursions to visit soldiers in hospitals and to places where the victims and evacuees of October 7 are recuperating. 

“Because there is a strong emphasis on therapy, visitors should have the power and the will to listen to hard stories,” adds Eidelberg. “People should be willing to share their own experiences and explain how the dog is helping them.”

Student volunteers

With Israel at war, students as young as nine are finding ways to get involved in the war effort, from designing cards for soldiers to packing boxes of treats. Older students pick fruits and vegetables at deserted farms after migrant workers left the country; Palestinian workers are not allowed in; and Israeli workers joined the reserves. The students help with evacuees from the South and the North and work on programs designed by counselors who take children on educational tours.

By the end of October, the Ministry of Education had established a National Volunteer Control Room under the leadership of the Social and Youth Administration.

“The Education Ministry attaches great importance to student volunteering and their contribution to agriculture,” says Education Minister Yoav Kisch. “This strengthens the students and social resilience, as well as fostering their engagement and activities during the war. In agriculture, we lack working hands, and we currently have tens of thousands of kids volunteering in the field. It gives them a chance to work with their hands and to be together in the ‘green’ zone. It helps the agricultural community, while allowing students to contribute to the war effort.”

Schools can volunteer through a variety of channels, including independently and directly with the farmer. Each channel receives logistical support, including transportation. Many schools from all over the country and from all sectors have mobilized for this initiative. The schools prepare the students before they leave for the fields and conduct follow-up discussions.

According to Eli Shaish, director of the ministry’s Israel studies division, who coordinates efforts with the Agriculture Ministry, the Social and Youth Administration, NGOs like Hashomer Hachadash, and National Youth Movements, there have been close to 50,000 volunteers since the program began. Some of the activities take place during school hours, while others are after-school activities. Volunteers usually work for five to six hours per day, two days a week.

“The key is apportioning the work and balancing it with the educational curriculum,” explains Shaish. “It takes time to teach the youth how to do the tasks and train them for the job.”

While the work isn’t always glamorous and sometimes is downright challenging, such as cleaning hospitals or picking vegetables, more schools currently want to volunteer than the program is able to accommodate. The control room is in contact with the Education Ministry districts to provide a response and logistical and volunteering solutions according to demand and need. Any school interested in participating should receive a response within 48 hours after the principal applies, says Shaish. ❖

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