El Al brings volunteers by the planeful to Israel

"When the war in Israel started, I tried to help from afar, but at some point, I felt like I needed to be closer,” said Eidan Jacob, a Masa Israel Journey volunteer.

When the devastating news of Oct. 7 reached the United States, the response was immediate. It wasn’t just reserve soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli ex-pats boarding El Al’s planes. Thousands of Diaspora Jews joined them, coming to Israel to show their love and solidarity.

“When the war in Israel started, I tried to help from afar, but at some point, I felt like I needed to be closer,” said Eidan Jacob, a Masa Israel Journey volunteer from New York. “I wanted the soldiers of the IDF to know that the Jewish communities love and support them, and want them to be safe and victorious.” He is one of the thousands who have traveled to Israel during the war to volunteer.

Starting with a mission in late October by alumni from Taglit-Birthright Israel, and continuing with “Operation Hug,” for parents of lone IDF soldiers, and Masa Israel fellowships, El Al has partnered with a variety of organizations to bring helping hands to the Jewish state.

Birthright Israel recruited alumni aged 20 to 40 to serve as volunteers, providing agricultural and logistical support. In collaboration with the Shalom Corps platform at Mosaic United, more than 1,000 volunteers have already arrived in Israel to assist in the war effort, another thousand are expected to join by April. As a strategic partner of Birthright, El Al supports the volunteer program by subsidizing ticket costs, thereby contributing to this international mission.

Volunteers engage in various tasks, from working in the fields of Israeli farmers affected by the war to assisting in donation centers with sorting, packing and distributing supplies for evacuated residents and military units. This initiative not only provides practical support, it also fosters a connection between young volunteers and the Israeli community. Evenings are dedicated to meeting with their Israeli peers and hearing firsthand stories from the war, allowing volunteers to share these experiences upon returning home.

“EL AL continues to maintain the only airlift to Israel from many countries,” says Shlomi Zafrany, vice president of commercial & industrial affairs at El Al. “We will continue to transport essential cargo, fly the families of hostages and bring volunteers from all over the world to Israel, and we will continue to contribute to national needs as they arise.”

Like Birthright, Masa Israel Journey is committed to bringing young Jewish adults to have transformative experiences in Israel. Founded by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the government of Israel in 2004, Masa boasts more than 200,000 alumni worldwide and attracts approximately 12,000 fellows each year. When Israel’s war with Hamas began, Masa was inundated with inquiries from young Jewish adults eager to come to the Jewish state to volunteer.

Masa CEO Ofer Gutman says, “Ever since Oct. 7, we at Masa, like all Israelis and Jews around the world, have been looking for opportunities to help Israel in the fight for its existence. … That is why we decided to create this program that is tailor-made for them and for Israel.” El Al partnered with Masa to subsidize and coordinate flights for the new initiative, “Masa Volunteers.”

Masa Volunteers is a six-week program that includes volunteering, and leadership- and advocacy training. The Masa volunteers cook for soldiers, pack food kits, assist evacuees and teach displaced children. They also engage in agricultural work in the south, contribute in education and logistics, and provide aid at centers housing evacuees in the Dead Sea or Eilat.

Beyond their hands-on efforts, Masa fellows participate in leadership seminars and have the opportunity to meet with local Israeli leaders, including city officials and activists. There is even advocacy training with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

As essential as volunteers are, sometimes a hug from a parent is needed even more. In a show of support for young men and women who have made aliyah to Israel on their own and are serving in the IDF as lone soldiers, El Al, Nefesh B’Nefesh, Jewish National Fund-USA and Friends of the IDF (FIDF) joined forces last fall to launch “Operation Hug.”

So far, this initiative has provided roundtrip airline tickets to 950 parents of lone soldiers from 46 different countries.

Zafrany reinforces El Al’s commitment as the flag carrier of Israel to actively facilitate “Operation Hug” arrivals amidst the ongoing conflict. Says Zafrany, “El Al collaborates with Nefesh B’Nefesh, facilitating the journey of lone soldiers’ families to Israel—an impactful initiative fostering morale and national resilience.”

As part of a Nefesh B’Nefesh initiative, along with Israel’s Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, Ministry of Health and the Jewish Agency, nearly 200 Jewish doctors from North America have also come to volunteer their expertise during wartime.

The State of Israel is incredibly grateful to Jews around the world for their love and support. But nothing demonstrates a true commitment to the Jewish state like those who choose to become citizens at this extraordinary time. Since the beginning of the war, 164 families have made aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh. Thanks to El Al, these 926 new olim boarded one-way flights to their new homes.

For more information about Taglit-Birthright Israel and Masa Israel Journey volunteer missions, or Operation Hug, click here.

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EL AL was founded in November 1948 as Israel’s national airline and operated its first scheduled flight in 1949. In June 1950, EL AL began service between Tel Aviv and New York. Today EL AL serves 49 international destinations in 33 countries. EL AL continues to grow in step with the country. Although the airline was privatized economically several years ago, its national spirit and commitment to Israel have never wavered. EL AL continues its many national activities striving for excellence through the service it offers its passengers. EL AL will continue to grow and flourish with the State and to be the first choice of travelers to and from Israel.
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