A community heals together with American volunteers

Supported by Jewish National Fund-USA, the volunteers have repaired much of the damage that the region sustained.

A memorial to the residents of Mivtachim who were killed on Oct. 7. Credit: Courtesy of Jewish National Fund-USA.
A memorial to the residents of Mivtachim who were killed on Oct. 7. Credit: Courtesy of Jewish National Fund-USA.

The Mivtachim community in the Gaza Envelope is still reeling from the attacks on Oct. 7 but the process of healing has begun, thanks to their community leadership and volunteers from around the world who have come as part of Jewish National Fund-USA’s Build Together plan.

More than 3,000 Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israeli border communities on the morning of Oct. 7, and 25 of them entered Mivtachim. A town of 450 residents that had just a few weapons among them, Mivtachim would have suffered a massacre if not for the heroics of the locals, some outside help, and a bit of luck.

“Around 7:45, I spoke with our local security chief Dan Asulin, my good friend,” said Eitan Aharon, head of the Mivtachim community. “He told me terrorists were shooting at them and infiltrated Mivtachim. That’s when I knew the worst of the rumors were true and the nightmare had arrived.”

Aharon alerted the town’s emergency team immediately, as per Asulin’s instructions. He then lost contact with Asulin who suddenly stopped answering him. It was later discovered that Asulin had been killed by the terrorists, one of five slain Mivtachim residents.

Meanwhile, the town’s reservist security team of seven members sprang into action to prevent the terrorists from further infiltration, doing their best with their limited weaponry and outnumbered forces. They succeeded in holding the terrorists at bay until help arrived later.

A memorial to the residents of Mivtachim who during the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. Credit: Courtesy of Jewish National Fund-USA.

The next day, the evacuation began.

“People were scared to leave their safe rooms,” Aharon recounted. “We had to help them get out, encourage them to pack and get them into their cars. We had a procession of vehicles shielded from the front and behind by an army escort.”

Tahel Shriki-Yofe, a pillar of Mivtachim’s emergency team, was evacuated to Eilat with her family and many other Mivtachim residents.

“Tahel worked around the clock to take care of our community members,” Aharon said.

The emergency team was responsible for all 450 residents, wherever they evacuated to, ensuring that their needs were being met.

“Many of our residents are elderly who don’t know how to use the government websites to fill out the necessary forms,” Shriki-Yofe said. “Beyond that, caring for handicapped people who needed accessible living arrangements in their evacuation sites, administrative financial matters like distributing donated resources, checking in on everyone’s situation and determining their needs—it was a big job. It still is.”

Volunteers from Jewish National Fund-USA helped paint, clean and repair damage to Mivtachim before residents returned home. Credit: Courtesy of Jewish National Fund-USA.

Roughly two-thirds of the Mivtachim residents have now returned home, and to their pleasant surprise, they are returning to a refreshed town.

“Jewish National Fund-USA has sent busloads of volunteers here,” Shriki-Yofe said. “The community members are blown away by people’s generosity in coming to their town to help repair the damage from Oct. 7 and the ensuing months of neglect while it was evacuated.”

Louis Orloff, a Jewish National Fund-USA volunteer from St. Petersburg, Fla., was inspired to join the mission.

“I really wanted to help,” Orloff said. “I’m on the board of my local JNF-USA chapter and normally I contribute money, but here was an opportunity to contribute in a more direct way. These people who had to evacuate their homes—now that they are starting to return, it’d be nice for them to see that people are volunteering to refresh their community, to make it look like new.”

Another volunteer, Samantha Elberg from Weston, Fla., had this to say: “It’s incredible what a team of 50 to 60 volunteers can do in just a few hours. It’s so inspiring to see people from all over the world come to Israel and volunteer their time to help these Israel Envelope communities rebuild after Oct. 7.”

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Jewish National Fund-USA builds a strong, vibrant future for the land and people of Israel through bold initiatives and Zionist education. As a leading philanthropic movement, the organization supports critical environmental and nation-building activities in Israel’s north and south as it develops new communities in the Negev and Galilee, connects the next generation to Israel, and creates infrastructure and programs that support ecology, people with disabilities, and heritage site preservation, all while running a fully accredited study abroad experience through its Alexander Muss High School in Israel.
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