By Tania Shalom Michaelian
Just hours after the harrowing events that shook Israel on Oct. 7, Shai Zohar wasted no time; he was already en route to the crisis zone in the south. The 50-year-old engineer from outside Tel Aviv might be entrenched in the country’s high-tech epicenter, but his roots growing up in a small agricultural village in the country’s far north etched one indisputable truth into his psyche: Israel’s farming sector was in dire straits and required an all-hands-on-deck approach to survive this disaster.
This was not just about answering a volunteer call; it was about fortifying Israel’s very food security. So, Shai reached out to the Jewish National Fund-USA affiliate, HaShomer HaChadash, that were actively scouting for people to come to the aid of beleaguered farmers on the unforgiving frontlines of the Gaza Envelope.
Established in 2007, the Zionist social-education non-profit organization is based on volunteers who help safeguard agricultural properties, assist farmers, and strengthen the Jewish people’s connections to the land. These values on which the organization stands made HaShomer HaChadash the perfect fit to step into the huge vacuum left by the thousands of foreign agricultural workers who fled the southern region after the massacres.
Hamas terrorists brutally claimed the lives of up to 30 Thai workers and abducted many of their friends, creating a dire situation. The crisis has been exacerbated by the mobilization of Israeli farmers and workers for the ongoing conflict, coupled with a comprehensive ban on Palestinian farm workers entering Israel. In response, organizations like HaShomer HaChadash are racing to fill this gaping void.
Shai was dispatched to aid farmers on Moshav Yadtet, along with a team of four others. Within a few days, this group swiftly expanded to more than 30 individuals hailing from all corners of the nation, and even from outside of Israel, all unified by the urgent mission to safeguard the future of the agricultural sector and rescue Israel’s economy. This mission takes on paramount significance when one grasps that the region bordering Gaza contributes to a staggering three-quarters of Israel’s agricultural production.
From the early morning hours, these groups work hard in the hot houses, fields and factories, doing whatever is required of them. “The citizens have stepped in where they are needed most,” said Shai. “It’s the duty of everyone to do their part. I may be unable to fight in the army, but I am doing my bit to help save the country.”
The importance of Jewish National Fund-USA partnering with organizations such as HaShomer HaChadash was highlighted by Talia Tzur, JNF-USA’s chief of staff in Israel: “With Israel in the throes of such an unprecedented war, Jewish National Fund-USA continues with its constant support of the state and the people of Israel,” she said. “For years, we have strengthened the communities of the Negev and the Galilee through development, expansion, and population. In many of these communities, agriculture is the main source of income and is a major factor in the resilience of the State of Israel. As such, we decided to support the efforts of HaShomer HaChadash to help farmers due to the severe shortage of manpower. This aid contributes both to the success of the farmers and to the national strength of the state.”
Another of the thousands of volunteers, father of four Guy Skury, who was well-acquainted with HaShomer HaChadash due to his sons’ active roles in its leadership programs, also wasted no time. The moment conflict erupted, he swiftly journeyed south to assist the embattled farmers of the Western Negev.
“The massacre on October 7 left the farmers defenseless,” he said. “Many of them lost loved ones. On top of all that, many of them face a real threat of losing their livelihood and income. The losses are astronomical.”
“Our ability as a nation to rise to the challenge and step in to help this sector through organizations such as HaShomer HaChadash is the glue that holds our people together,” he added. “Am Yisrael Chai!”
In addition to mobilizing thousands of agricultural volunteers, Jewish National Fund-USA is leveraging its unparalleled network of affiliates to support the immediate needs of displaced Israelis. Through its “Israel Resilience Campaign,” the organization is providing critical therapy to traumatized children, firefighting equipment, defensive equipment for civilian security guards and supporting the opening of a life-saving Trauma Ward at the ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran Kaylie Rehabilitation Medical Center, the only rehabilitation hospital in the south of Israel.
To support the Jewish National Fund-USA Israel Resilience Campaign, see: jnf.org.