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Heading for Home

Volunteering in Israel. (courtesy)

After almost six weeks of volunteering in Israel, it’s time to head home, but where is home? My wife and I came to help in whatever way we could along with thousands of others. It was both exhilarating and at times exhausting. I have muscle aches in muscles I didn’t know I had. We got off to a slow start when I got Covid a few days after arrival, and my wife followed two days later, since we share most things.

I always have an adjustment period when coming to Israel. It takes me a week to be able to sleep because of the time change. I need to decipher the language (including English), learn directions without getting lost more than twice a day, since the streets seem to change names every few blocks, and familiarize myself with the transit system. By the time I have mastered these skills, it’s time to come home.

We came to help in agriculture and any other areas of need. We picked, planted, and pruned in what appears as a peaceful pastoral setting adjacent to Gaza. People of different ages, countries, and backgrounds along with Israeli residents worked toward a common goal, some with great sacrifice to get here. None of us were experienced farm workers, but I’m sure many tons of fruits and vegetables have been preserved through the help of volunteers.

As a result of 10/7, much farm property and equipment was destroyed and a farm labor shortage was created causing tons of produce to go to waste, which was another tragedy. One of the many wonderful volunteer organizations here is Leket, a national food bank originally started by one person to collect excess food from banquet halls and corporate cafeterias to distribute to people in need. They have grown to where they acquire and distribute surplus healthy food and have their own logistic center. After 10/7 they started a project to help farmers with their labor shortage by enabling volunteers to help. Chartered buses are available from major cities to the farms near Gaza with some tour guides leading the groups. We were given simple instructions  and it was a very rewarding experience which was much appreciated by the farmers.

We sorted, folded, visited, and consoled. Another great organization among many is Eran’s Angels which distributes donated clothing and housewares to displaced families and soldiers, located in the lower level of a parking garage at the Tel Aviv Expo Center near Tel Aviv University easily accessible by train or bus. The people who organize the program are dedicated and caring  instructing the volunteers on how to sort and fold properly and take pride in the appearance of the items even using clear wrap to create attractive gift baskets for the families. Again there were people from different countries working together. It’s a great place to volunteer on a hot day, since it’s cool there.

Iran tried to scare us with their missiles and drones. That Saturday night started out normally with the local mall bustling with shoppers. We checked the news when we got home and it was a strange feeling to read that the drones had taken off from Iran and when they would be arriving. We went to sleep with our shoes at the ready. In the morning the streets were busy, and trains and buses running as normal.

The people here are resilient and seem to get stronger with each adversity; however, that does not mean that anyone has forgotten what happened, or was not traumatized. There are pictures of hostages on buildings, on flags in the street, yellow ribbons everywhere, and people wearing reminders around their necks. Hostage Square in Tel Aviv is an open plaza where there are demonstrations on behalf of the hostages, exhibits about their plight, and an area for hostage families. We sat with a family which was a very moving and inspirational experience. Almost everyone knows of a victim, or a soldier who is serving. Relatives of soldiers serving in different areas wait for a phone call from their loved ones for a short respite from their anguish.

People here as in America may not know their neighbors or may take out their frustrations by honking in traffic, but there is still a family atmosphere looking out for each other. I have a quick study of the character of a society. Walk down any residential street in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem (or any other town) and observe the benches in front of buildings. You will find clothing, books, magazines, small kitchen appliances, linens, and anything else someone wants to give away, and it’s gone the next time I pass by. Last night I saw sheet music, and it was gone this morning.

Some Diaspora Jews may not have a close connection to Israel while some non-Jews may be strong supporters, but they will both be targets of antisemites as we are sadly seeing on campuses. In that case it is best to be armed with as much knowledge about Israel  as possible. I’m glad I had the opportunity to be here, and now it’s time to return home. Most of us have many homes; the place where we sleep, where we have family and friends, or the place where our heart and soul reside. I hope I have the ability to return here, but if not, I will always carry a part of Israel within me.

About the Author
Israel volunteer and retired pension consultant and course writer from Chicago
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