Karen Kolodny

Reflections on a Volunteer Mission to Israel

Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is…show up

– Brene Brown

Showing up – that is what we decided to do. My husband and I “showed up” in Israel last week in the middle of the war. Despite concern from family and friends for our safety, we joined 60 other like-minded Americans on a Jewish National Fund (USA) 5 day volunteer mission to Israel. Was it “smart” to go to a small country at war, at war with terrorists who know no bounds with regard to their determination to eliminate Israel, its Jewish citizens and Jews everywhere? Maybe it wasn’t “smart” but it wasn’t “not-smart”. Sometimes you need to take a risk, to take a stand for what you believe in. To show up. And we did.

The visit was powerful. All the Israelis we met displayed courage and resilience and it was inspiring. We heard the stories and the pain of the Israelis who were part of the October 7 attacks; the widow who lost her husband as he was defending a neighborhood community, a soldier rehabbing from bullet wounds in Gaza even after his 3 days of fighting off terrorists in his neighborhood. We absorbed their experiences, cried with them, shared their pain and their determination to rebuild.

In some ways I found the most impactful and meaningful part of the trip was the hours of volunteer work that we did. Since October 7, Israel’s $2 billion agricultural industry lacks thousands of day workers, and this void is having a major impact on the economy. Someone has to tend the farm and that is what we did. Working with HaShomer HaChadash, an organization that provides agricultural volunteers, enabled us to step in and help fill the labor void. We had a real sense of satisfaction of working the land, the land of Eretz Yisrael, some of us even not wanting to stop to take a lunch break. We picked citrus and weeded onion fields. Did our 2 tons of oranges and 2 tons of lemons solve the workforce issues of a country at war?  No and we know they didn’t. But as our host farmer said, if the fruit isn’t picked it goes to waste. At least we did our small part.

Our mission also worked with Sar-El in an army warehouse and packed 16,000 bags of energy snacks for soldiers in Gaza. By doing this work, soldiers or other civilians could focus on other tasks or family members. We witnessed these bags of snacks immediately get boxed up and loaded onto pallets and were told they were heading out to the battlefields in Gaza the next day. How rewarding – to  see our work immediately and directly get into use and have an impact.

Our 3 volunteer days were meaningful to all of us. Some older people among us needed Advil to get through the day; others needed more rest breaks. But no one complained and all of us were grateful for the opportunity to contribute, in whatever way we could, to the war effort.

Israeli soldiers were told by our group that they were not only defending Israel, they were also defending Jews and Judaism around the world. And we as diaspora Jews were helping Israel, its war effort and its economy.

Kol Yisrael arevim ze bahze. All of Israel is responsible one for the other.

Please do your part and volunteer for Israel and in Israel. You will get out of it more than you gave.

Karen Kolodny is the former CEO of the JCC of Mid-Westchester in Scarsdale, New York.  She is now a nonprofit consultant. She is not affiliated with JNF.

About the Author
Karen Kolodny has worked in the Jewish community for more than 20 years. From 2013 to 2022, Karen was the Executive Director/CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Mid-Westchester (JCCMW) in Scarsdale, NY. Prior to joining JCCMW, Karen worked for 12 years at the 92nd Street Y, serving as Director of the Milstein/Rosenthal Center for Media & Technology and then, additionally, as Director of Legal Affairs. At the same time, Karen was President of the Board of West End Synagogue, President of the Heschel Parents Association, and then on the Board of Directors of the Heschel School. Karen also serves on the Board of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, now Reconstructing Judaism.
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