Jonathan Riskind

Make a Difference from the Diaspora: Connect with ‘Project 24’

Lifeline: The artwork by Adi Drimer that captures the WhatsApp messages sent by Kibbutz Re'im residents on Oct. 7.
Lifeline: the artwork by Adi Drimer that captures the Kibbutz Re'im WhatsApp messages on Oct. 7

The amazing courage and resilience of Israelis has been on full display since Oct. 7. Even as they mourned those killed, kidnapped and brutalized on that terrible day, Israelis rose together, almost instantaneously, to meet immediate and longer-term needs of tens of thousands of survivors, displaced families, and the reservists who quickly mobilized to the fronts in the south and the north.

The most famous example is Achim Laneshek (who call themselves Brothers and Sisters in Arms in English), the organization of reservists who sprang up as a force to be reckoned with during the pro-democracy protests against the government’s proposed judicial overhaul. In addition to many of its members heading into the military fight against Hamas and along the Lebanese border to prepare for any potential actions by Hezbollah, Achim Laneshek was one of the main organizations that began to serve civil society with aid and relief initiatives.

After I wrote a Times of Israel blog post in January urging American Jews to volunteer in Israel, a number of people asked about the type of opportunities that exist to help. In addition to the Jewish National Fund mission that my wife and I went on and that continue to do outstanding work trip after trip, from picking crops to now helping with clean up and rebuilding efforts in ravaged Gaza area communities, other friends have volunteered with Leket for Israel, which focuses on agricultural work.

But I want to focus here on one of the entrepreneurial organizations that start-up minded Israelis created in the wake of Oct. 7. It’s called Project 24, a reference to the 24 communities near Gaza that were attacked and/or evacuated.

On Oct. 7, Kibbutz Re’im resident Ron “Bubu” Assaf (better known as “Bubu”) helped to fight and kill terrorists and save the lives of his family and many others. By November he had launched Project 24 with his lifelong friend Daniel Gradus, a former IDF commander who founded an investment group called Homrun that aims to connect Israeli companies with a global market via a network of Jewish members in the Diaspora.

I learned about Project 24 from Daniel, who contacted me after that January blog post calling on American Jews to volunteer. I needed to learn about what Project 24 is doing, Daniel assured me. Its work provides Jews from the Diaspora the chance to collaborate directly with Israelis on projects that will both empower and help them recover and rebuild. You don’t just make a donation (not that there is anything wrong with that), you become a Project 24 member and from there can both participate in ongoing projects and help create new initiatives.

There already is a long list of successful Project 24 efforts. Just a few examples:

  • A heart wrenching piece of art called Lifeline by Adi Drimer of Kibbutz Re’im, which documents the Re’im WhatsApp group messages during the attack in the form of a mandala. Project 24’s marketing of Lifeline already has brought in more than $30,000 that will go to Re’im rebuilding efforts.
  • A youth basketball team made up of two dozen players and Gaza area kibbutz evacuees from the Hof Ashkelon club, that traveled to Miami, also visiting Boca Raton and Hollywood, Fla., courtesy of another Project 24 initiative, for some respite and normalcy. Their trip to the United States brought them together for just the second time since Oct. 7, and they got to play against Jewish day school teams, attend a Miami Heat NBA game, and even meet several Heat players. Another sports-related project is in the works to bring a girls soccer team to Chicago and Columbus (so if anyone in those cities wants to help, contact Project 24).
  • An initiative that involves Jewish-owned bakeries in the United States selling challahs whose sales provide vouchers for financially struggling families in Israel to in turn buy their own Shabbat challah from their local corner store in their neighborhood.

This doesn’t mean there is not a need for American Jews (and others, of course, all good-hearted people are needed and welcome) to continue to come to Israel to volunteer. As I noted in my previous post, just our mere presence is extremely meaningful to Israelis during a period when so much hatred, distortions, and outright falsehoods are raining down on the Jewish state.

But as American Jews deal with increasing antisemitism, add Project 24 to the list of other ways to help. Its goal is to come up with projects that both heal and strengthen Israelis and Diaspora Jews —and right now that seems like the right prescription.

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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