FEATUREJune/July 2024

Our Week in Israel As Volunteers

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By Lana Schaffer

I had visited Israel many times in my life for various reasons, for instance to live and work temporarily or to meet my Granduncle’s family in Kibbutz Tel Yosef. I thought that my Israeli story was finished, and I was out of excuses to visit Israel … until it dawned on me that I harbored a strong desire to return, and I had the resources. All sorts of friends were volunteering for urgently needed help on farms in Israel and I was easily able to lend assistance like that. All that was left was for me to make the commitment to journey again to Israel. I felt like I had to intervene in my daily life, as if I had to grasp a ball rolling downhill, to shift it temporarily in a new direction. I had to confront my desire.

Once I broke through my own wall, the rest was easier … search flights that match my husband’s schedule, choose in which city and hotel to reside, and figure out how to organize our activities. I was overwhelmed again.

Help came to me in the form of recommendations for a Facebook group, and 2 Apps called Moovit and Gett. The Facebook group called Sword of Iron—Israeli Volunteer Opportunities includes members like me asking questions, receiving answers, and compiled lists of where and what activities are available. The Apps provide transportation in real time with bus and train schedules, and cab contact information. I decided to make arrangements that would make our stay most enjoyable and easy, namely, using only public transportation, staying in a Tel Aviv hotel inviting volunteers with a discount and walking distance to necessities.

My main discovery was a group called Leket which provides bus transportation every day except for Shabbat to farms in the Otef Aza or the “envelop” around Gaza in southern Israel. The daily choice of which farm receives help is decided the night before and one needs to sign up the week before up to the night before the trip. Reservations cannot be made months ahead of time so one needs to remain calm for this kind of traveling. New opportunities open only a week in advance, but there are always opportunities for celebrating or volunteering.

On our first day we were on the Leket bus and the highlight of our trip, we were taken to the most southern farm to attach small vines cucumbers to vertical hanging strings for climbing. The Israelis invented a special material to cover the Greenhouses which let in the sunrays but keep out the bugs. We spent a few hours there doing our pleasant work, but the bus full of volunteers only accomplished a few rows. This work was overdue, of course, and I wanted to stay there to complete all the rows. However, the Leket buses loaded us up to visit the settlement of Kerem Shalom {The Vineyard of Peace), the first settlement that was broken into by the terrorists on October 7. The tour was given by a soldier who lived there but was away at the time of the break-in. He gave us the account of what happened while showing us the exact places where it occurred. I have pictures of the cement wall that is colored red at the place of the explosion to break into the settlement. I also have pictures of the windows in the cement wall where you can see Egypt and Rafah and the main bridge that delivers supplies to the Gaza Strip. Also, the electric pole is there that supplies Gaza with electricity.

Subsequent trips with Leket took us to settlements to make cuttings of sweet potato plants and prune tomato plants so as there remained only 5 tomatoes on a vine. On the bus we met a non-Jewish lady from Norway who comes to volunteer in Israel on her vacations from work, a barrister from Australia, and few Canadians. The Canadians complained about the non-existence of direct flights between Canada and Israel. The special trip in which we participated during Shabbat was full of Israelis.

I felt elated in the quiet of the fields of vegetable plants and at the same time being keenly aware of how easy it was to do something to help Israel. Not only do Jews need Israel, but Israelis need us now to feel our support. As a perk of our visit, we met with a few members of my family in Israel. Even though they are frighteningly aware of the situation that is their existence, they travel to the Golan, to the beach, and live as normal. They appreciated our coming to Israel and want us to return even when there is no war. That is optimism.

L'Chaim

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