Jonathan Riskind

Israel Volunteers Gather Via ‘Sword of Iron’ Online Group

A kibbutz that was attacked October 7 “is urgently looking for volunteers for the clean-up work.” Donations and packaged items for displaced families and soldiers are in need of sorting at the Tel Aviv Expo Center. Sandwich making sessions are being held in a home in north Tel Aviv. A therapist specializing in grief and loss who is staying in Jerusalem for a month is working to set up visits with soldiers in the hospital and in rehab. And, of course, there are multiple opportunities to pick crops in the Gaza Envelope and beyond.

A brief scroll down the Sword of Iron – Israel Volunteer Opportunities Facebook group yields information about a plethora of other chances to lend a hand in Israel, along with advice about flights to Israel and where to stay on a tight budget, and even documents with details like getting a sim card, local medical insurance, and apps for Israeli public transportation. A new project of the group is working to develop specialty specific volunteer opportunities, say for IT workers or physical therapists.

Sword of Iron is the creation of Yocheved Kim Ruttenberg, a native of Baltimore with a brother serving as a combat soldier in the IDF, co-founder Hagit Greenberg Amar, along with Yael Yomtov-Emmanuel and the many other Sword of Iron group administrators who give of their time every day.

After initially promising her boss she would be gone only two weeks, she soon quit her job in the States and decided to stay on in Israel indefinitely. Hazy ideas of how to use her logistical and organizational abilities to help has turned into months in Israel and a thriving online community, operating in English, of more than 29,000 members. It’s a private group, but not difficult to join.

Yocheved spent several weeks this month on a speaking tour in the United States, including Silver Spring, MD, where my wife and I saw her. She was peppered with both questions about how to volunteer in Israel and ideas for new ways to be of service there from a passionate crowd of people who seemed either already well connected to life in Israel or who are eager to be so.

“I decided I had to go to Israel to support my brother. I raised $17,000 in five days and flew into Israel with 23 duffle bags of supplies,” she recalls. “The last eight months have been a dream.”

The genius of what Yocheved and the Sword of Iron team have put together is a resource hub that is accessible to diaspora Jews. When she first arrived, she saw first-hand the incredible efforts by Israeli civil society to meet the needs of a wounded, traumatized nation. But the many and varied WhatsApp groups (there’s nothing Israelis like more than a good WhatsApp group) linking volunteers with needs that sprang up were mostly in Hebrew.

She quickly realized a major contribution could be translating and putting everything into one place.

Many Americans Jews and others are eager to volunteer in Israel, but not everyone knows how to go about it or how to find an opportunity that fits both individual time frames, wallets, and physical abilities. We are certainly going to use the Sword of Iron group as a resource for our volunteer efforts when we’re back in Israel later this summer.

Wrote one group member recently: “We’re home now and I wanted to thank this group once again for all the great information and for helping us realize we could put together a “mission” on our own. Almost every activity we did, we learned about from Sword of Iron.”

It might seem like such a simple concept. But the Sword of Iron volunteers Facebook group is producing enormous dividends, both for Israel and for those who love Israel.

About the Author
Jonathan Riskind, a Washington, DC-area resident, is a frequent visitor to Israel, most recently participating in a Jewish National Fund volunteer mission to Israel in December. He is also active with AJC, the American Jewish Committee.
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