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American volunteers mobilize in Israel

Americans are joining volunteer missions to Israel with Jewish National Fund-USA as the organization continues its support for communities devastated by the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks.

American volunteers lend a hand to help work on Israeli farms bordering the Gaza Strip. Photo by Arnold Abelman.
American volunteers lend a hand to help work on Israeli farms bordering the Gaza Strip. Photo by Arnold Abelman.

Americans nationwide are signing up for Jewish National Fund-USA’s Volunteer Missions to Israel. The week-long trips, to last through May, support relief efforts aimed at shoring up the country’s food security, assisting at rehabilitation hospitals and supporting civilian logistical needs on army bases.

Volunteer mission highlights include:

  • Spending time with evacuees and the people providing lifesaving efforts to support them. 
  • Taking part in community service helping with anything needed, from cooking to assistance in daycare centers, laundry or cleaning up. 
  • Working with Hashomer HaChadash on farms, picking vegetables and other crops to prevent food shortages and ensure that no farmer is left alone.
  • Volunteering at an army base and take on logistical roles necessary to fill the void of the more than 350,000 Israelis serving in the Israel Defense Forces and reserves.

For Chicago-based philanthropist Deb Lust Zaluda, taking part in Jewish National Fund-USA’s inaugural volunteer mission in mid-December impacted her in unexpected ways.

“I wanted to have an impact in Israel, make a difference, do something, feel useful; however, what I didn’t expect was the impact the mission would have on me,” said Lust Zaluda, who is also the organization’s assistant vice president of missions.

Deb Lust Zaluda of Chicago supports volunteering efforts in Israel’s south by helping out on a citrus farm. Credit: Courtesy of JNF-USA.

“Yes, we pulled weeds so that the fields of green onions didn’t suffocate and could be harvested when it was time. We picked citrus, which would have gone rotten on the trees if not for us. But more importantly, we listened. We listened to the story of the lone soldier from Texas, Noah, who went back into the army after being released so he could join his unit in Gaza. We heard from Erez, a citrus farmer in the south of Israel whose family was evicted from Tunisia in the early 1950s with just the clothes on their backs. Erez’s family knew nothing of farming when they arrived in Israel, but they helped make the desert bloom in the Negev through their grit and determination.”

She added: “Erez, after looking at our group of volunteers, was truly shocked by how much we did, as his level of trust in the future had been shattered.”

Volunteers picked more than 4 tons of citrus on Israeli farms bordering the Gaza Strip. Photo by Arnold Abelman.

The missions include accommodations; meals; airport transfers; armed security; daily transportation to sites; four to six hours of daily volunteer work;. Trips will run every other week and are currently scheduled through May.

For more information, see: jnf.org/travel. To support Jewish National Fund-USA’s Israel Resilience Campaign, visit: jnf.org/supportisrael.

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