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Reflections from Our BDJ Members in Israel #4

01/10/2024 12:44:04 PM


Alex & Julie Fax

Agricultural volunteering:

First thing to know is that the need for agricultural volunteers is very real and the farmers you are helping are deeply appreciative.  They really are in a tough situation and the work you do has a direct impact on their livelihood and the Israeli economy in general.  It's really worth doing.

Second thing to know is that you can't find agricultural opportunities more than a week in advance because the farms themselves don't know what they need.  That can be hard in terms of planning your trip but there are many opportunities to volunteer so if you carve out time for it (plan a full day for agricultural work) then you should be able to find something that works.

Third thing to know is that agricultural work can be quite physical so make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. You can always ask the group in question but assume that any outdoor work is real labor.  You'll want a wide-brimmed hat, closed-toe shoes for almost any opportunity, and in most cases they want you to bring your own water and food.  If you want to do agricultural work that is less demanding, look for work sorting produce - that is often indoors and can be done sitting down.

As far as finding opportunities:  I found the Chamal Ezrachi web site to be overwhelming and not very efficient.  An excellent WhatsApp group for finding opportunities within range of Jerusalem / Modiin / Beit Shemesh can be found here. This group posts new agricultural volunteer opportunities all the time, posts everything in English and Hebrew, and provides a forum to ask questions. You should join the group at least 3-4 days in advance of your trip so you can get a feel for what the opportunities are. In most cases, that group will provide links to an opportunity-specific WhatsApp group so you can sign up (most opportunities require signing up and filling out an insurance form), sort out timing, directions, transportation, etc. (Tip - if you're given an Israeli phone number as a connection, you should WhatsApp and not call - the country runs on WhatsApp). We were able to get everywhere we needed to go by bus - Google Maps and Moovit are really good for getting around Israel easily.

If you want to volunteer near Gaza, then the best way to do that is through Leket Israel.  They run daily buses from many locations that leave at 6AM or so and return by 5PM.  The Google doc to sign up is here.  Go to the bottom of the doc to find the WhatsApp group for the city you're leaving from - join that group to get the daily specifics.  The exact destination and type of work varies daily, but as far as I could tell they run every day Sunday -Thursday.

There are a cluster of agricultural opportunities north of Tel Aviv but we weren't headed in that direction so I can't provide much insight.  If you take the train from Jerusalem to Herzliya you're actually quite close to many of these opportunities but I don't have great advice on how to navigate them efficiently.

Food packing in Jerusalem:

We found two substantive opportunities in Jerusalem to pack food for soldiers / evacuees and others in need:

The first is Chabad of Katamon (6 Shai Agnon St), which runs daily (Sun-Thursday) sandwich making starting at 10AM.  There's no signup required but show up on time because sometimes they get too many volunteers.  They advertise as running from 10 to 12, but both times we did it they were done by 11.  You'll be part of a sandwich-making assembly line that will produce some 1500 sandwiches a day that are going to a range of locations.  It's not very strenuous, isn't a major time commitment, and chances are you'll run into someone you know.

The second is Tachlit, which is a larger food packing operation that runs out of an industrial area in Kiryat Moshe.  Think Tomchei Shabbos on steroids.  It runs Monday and Wednesday from 10:30AM to 1PM or so and you'll be part of a large operation assembling care packages for distribution to those in need.  This one does require signup because they can only handle about 30 volunteers a day.  The WhatsApp group is here for signup.  Pay close attention to the directions because their warehouse is hard to find.

Meeting with evacuees / soldiers / etc.

We didn't actually do this. We looked into it but we found that the hotels and hospitals are already oversubscribed with volunteers.  This sort of volunteering is also fraught because many of these people have undergone trauma and volunteers need to know that they're welcome, really speak Hebrew, and are equipped to handle this sort of work.  We received several messages actively discouraging well-intentioned volunteers from seeking out personal interactions on their own. 

If you really want to make that human connection, here are a few thoughts:

  • Go to Kikar Hachatufim in Tel Aviv (in front of the Tel Aviv Art Museum).  People gathering there want to talk and share their stories, and they want you to come and represent.
  • I'm not an expert in this, but there are buses going to military bases to make barbecues for soldiers.  In most cases but not all they want Hebrew speakers, but you can ask.
  • I get the sense that organized missions are doing more of this sort of work.
Mon, June 17 2024 11 Sivan 5784