I am a 63-year-old American lawyer. I just spent a week farming in Israel.

I put my hands in the dirt in Israel to work the land and it changed everything.

Let me back up. I was raised in the Conservative movement.  I am not observant. Before October 7th, I would have called myself “vaguely Zionist.” I had been to Israel several times as an adult as part of several JewishFederation mission trips that left me proud of the Detroit community’s commitment to the country. It seemed far away once I got home. I was glad Israel was there, but I didn’t think of it as a vacation spot, let alone home. I definitely took it for granted. 

But then October 7 happened.

Suddenly I felt a rage growing that shocked me and that I didn’t completely understand.  Contributing money to Israeli causes, reading, posting, none of it was enough. My husband Jon and I had a two-week trip planned last month to visit our youngest son, Matthew. He plays professional soccer in the Israeli Premiere League for Hapoel Tel Aviv and made Aliyah in July 2023. I was glad to be going as a tourist, but I yearned to make more of a difference. 

On February 13, 2024, I received an email from Adamah, the largest Jewish environmental organization in North America. It was offering a service trip to volunteer on a farmstarting the day after I had originally planned to come back to Michigan. It felt like the answer to a prayer. I applied. I was accepted. And on March 18, 2024, the adventure began.

Twenty-three of us (including two rabbis) from across the United States gathered in Tel Aviv to begin our travels. We ranged in age from our early 20s to our late 60s. We ranged in religion from non-observant to shomer Shabbos. We ranged in farm work experience from “I pull weeds” (most of us) to former farmers from New York and Vermont (two of us). But what we lacked in experience, we made up for in desire. 

We pulled into Kibbutz Ravid in the Kinneret after sunset. I would like to describe the kibbutz as “basic,” but it was also…. well, let’s just say it could have used a good cleaning. And then it rained the next two days and there was mud everywhere. Israeli farmers don’t go out in the rain, but we were there and anxious to help. Kibbutz chores were found, but they seemed far removed from working the land. The group was tired. And cranky. We were cold and wet. And muddy. Really muddy.

Slowly but surely, we pulled it together. There was the mystical beauty of the Galilee, even in the rain. There were warm golden sunsets like something out of a movie. We saw glorious sunrises…farmers like us have to get going early. At the crack of dawn, we were drinking coffee and making breakfast together in our small communal kitchen. There were speakers who taught us about food scarcity and waste, about sustainability efforts, about the socio-economic plight of Arab Israelis and the initiatives of Arab Israeli women, in particular, to lift up their community. 

We volunteered with Arab Israeli teenagers to pack food boxes for people in need in their community. And then we joined them for dinner at Iftar, the daily break of the Ramadan fast. We spent a morning talking to Jewish evacuees from the North who have no idea when they will ever go home again. We had lunch one day at an organization called Robin Food that creates tasty meals prepared with leftover food from the Haifa shuk (marketplace). And we spent timenot nearly enoughat Hostage Square where the families of the hostages share their grief in moving and profound ways as the rest of us bear witness and try to support them. 

And we farmed.

Our biggest project involved extricating the irrigation system from the winter overgrowth and aligning the pipes,so they lay about 6 inches from the tree trunk.  This creates the best mix of air and water for a healthy root system for the mango trees.  We also spent a morning in the mango groves pruning baby mango trees or painting sunscreen on the bottom of avocado trees to protect the bark.

The hard work, the fresh air, the intensity of our efforts to understand what it was really like in and on the ground, both exhausted and exhilarated us. We arrived in Haifa for Shabbat and for Purim, a tired but proud group of Americans.  We had pushed ourselves in every way, perhaps most of all in finding patience and tolerance for the individual journeys of all the people in our group. Kabbalat Shabbat by the Mediterranean Sea, officiated by group member Rabbi Julia Appel, was just what we needed. 

But we had one surprise left. After Shabbat dinner, we were challenged to each speak about something we were grateful for. Ryan Lubin from Memphis stood to speak: his young niece, Rose Lubin, a Lone Soldier from Atlanta, had fiercely defended her community of Kibbutz Sa’ad on October 7.  Thereafter, she returned to her usual duties guarding the Damascus Gate in the Old City making sure non-Jews could safely pray at the Temple Mount. On November 7, while on duty, Rose lost her life to a terrorist who stabbed her to death. Rose was buried with full military honors.  Her funeral at Mount Herzl was attended by thousands of mourners. 

Ryan had joined the trip as another step in his grieving process. Here, at Shabbat dinner, he told his beloved niece’s story while we listened and wept. Ryan explained what he was grateful for: it was for all of us. He told us that our work honored Rose’s memory. 

I get goosebumps writing about Rose and Ryan. To imagine that this group’s journey of discovery served yet another sacred purpose was overwhelming.  So, it seemed apt to turn our attention to the Megillah on Saturday night where we attended a reading at a Reform synagogue in Haifa. It is common knowledge that in the entire Megillah there is no mention of God or religious rituals. Israeli Rabbi Yoel Ben Nun says “It was written in such a radically secular style to teach us that divine providence exists in places and situations far from the realm of holiness…”

And so it was for us, the inaugural group sent by Adamah to farm and learn in Israel.  In the mud and the rain, in the physical and intellectual work, and in the emotional rollercoaster, we didn’t just help Israel, we helped ourselves. We are no longer Jewish Americans in a strange land.  We areat least honoraryfellow Israelis who worked the land with our hands, our hearts and our minds.  We felt the call of our ancestors, the demands of the present and the hope for the future.  We did it all with the light of the life of Rose Lubin guiding us. I will never forget.  Israel is inside me now.  Am Yisrael Chai.

Israel needs you.  But you need Israel.  Volunteer opportunities abound (check out the Facebook group Sword of Iron). But if that’s not your thing, go as a tourist.  Walk the streets, stroll the boardwalks by the sea, eat scrumptious food.  The economy is suffering, and you can help. In the end, I promise you will get more than you ever could have hoped for.  So, please — just go.  Your family is calling you home.

About the Author
Jan Goldstein Frank makes her home in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. She coached competitive public speaking in the Bloomfield Hills public schools between 2005-2023. Jan is a partner, with her husband Jon Frank, in the law firm Frank and Frank. She is the mother of three sons, two daughters-in-law and Grammy to the remarkable Emilia and Maya Frank.