June 7, 2024
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A (More) Affordable Way to Volunteer Now in Israel

The current war in Israel since October 7 is an unprecedented time in Jewish history, one where we have seen the Jewish people worldwide united like never before in purpose, love and support. The efforts undertaken both in Israel and the Diaspora to do whatever we can as individuals and as groups are impressive and selfless, religious/spiritual and philanthropic. All are equally important and vital to the solidarity we are feeling, to let the soldiers, evacuees and families of the hostages know we are each doing our part to help bring a successful end to the war as soon as we can.

For those who can, traveling to Israel is now more important than ever to show Israelis that they are not alone. To give a hug, to bear witness to the devastation in the South, to listen to people tell their stories, share their feelings and of course to volunteer to help. It is our responsibility to return to the States and tell others of our experiences going to Israel and to encourage people to do the same because seeing us come to Israel now during a war is very encouraging for Israelis and gives them hope. They are extremely appreciative of us taking the time to visit and stand together.

Over the past few months and ongoing for the near future, many organizations from the US and other countries have been running solidarity missions to Israel to show our support in person. The advantages to these programs are that everything is arranged for the participants and you have access to certain opportunities you may not get if you are traveling to volunteer alone. However, the mission costs are (understandably) high. But with some homework, you can plan your itinerary and travel on your own for a lot less money. I am here to offer advice on how to travel to Israel to volunteer more affordably:

  1. Airfare: Fly with points/miles to Europe on a US-based carrier and then fly El Al from there. United Airlines says it will resume flights to Tel Aviv this month but on a limited basis. El Al is still the only carrier flying directly there, which drives up flight prices. Even if you buy both tickets outright, paying for an indirect flight will be less expensive than flying direct. 

When I went in December, I flew United to London with credit card points and then bought an El Al ticket to get to Israel. Use a website like Kayak.com to find the best prices and times for flights across multiple carriers. Be sure to research a variety of major European cities to see which flights will allow you the optimal layover before you catch the second flight to Israel. Have El Al open in your browser simultaneously so you can go back and forth between the two tabs to coordinate the flights since you are booking two separate tickets. 

NOTE: If you are taking duffels, call the airline directly to see if they can check your luggage all the way through without having to claim it between the two flights as it is a hassle to clear customs and recheck your baggage, and you may not have time once you factor in travel time between terminals and El Al security. (It took me an hour and a half at Heathrow.) Even though certain airlines don’t have this relationship, very often when you get to the first airport to check in, they can arrange to check your luggage all the way through. I flew only with carry-on luggage because I had less than two hours between flights so I could not risk them saying no, but I packed an extra bag so I could check it on the way home when I had a longer layover. (I did my part supporting the Israeli economy and bought things to take back!) El Al was able to check my luggage all the way through on the return trip.

  1. Lodging and Transportation:Travel with a spouse or a few friends to share costs.
    • If you do not have a friend/family to stay with, search the internet for “rent inexpensive apartment in Israel” for a list of options that includes but goes beyond VRBO and Airbnb.
    • Economy car rentals are not so expensive now, ~$50/day.
    • Public transportation is very easy and affordable. Buy a Rav Kav card and download the Moovit app to see how to get places, the times, and the prices.
    • Some volunteering places are off the beaten path, so either limit your volunteering to locations in town that are easily accessed via public transportation, or if you do not rent a car (we had one for part of our trip) there are many WhatsApp and Facebook groups where you can arrange rides with other drivers, and some organizations have pre-arranged trips you can sign up for that include transportation.
  1. Phone: Buy an eSim card for data and use WhatsApp for phone calls. https://Airalo.com offers one-week Israel eSim cards for $4.50 and 1GB of data, or $11 for 5GB and 30 days.

I would also like to recommend some helpful tips for volunteering:

  1. Do your research in advance of your trip for where and what volunteering you want to do. Having a planned itinerary is helpful to maximize your time in Israel, especially if you are going for a short period and need to factor in travel time. Here are some of the WhatsApp groups I found very helpful that are not dependent on where you are staying:
    • Hotel brigade lists different coordinator contact information by city and hotel where evacuees are currently housed. I would recommend reaching out a few days in advance so they have time to get back to you.
    • Honoring Mourning Families, in memory of Amir Skoury, lists current shiva information for each soldier who has been killed, including address, driving directions and hours of visitation. They even post if a shiva house needs more visitors, perhaps for a lone soldier or someone without a lot of family.
    • GFI Onsite Grill Teams will post sign-up dates and locations for specific grilling for IDF events. If interested, you join the group for the specific event, and pertinent information including driving directions is posted there.
    • JLIC Israel Volunteer Opportunities lists volunteer opportunities organized by JLIC communities around Israel.
    • Leket has regional WhatsApp groups to join based on where you are staying,whichlist agricultural volunteering opportunities. You can pick or pack produce, depending on the farms’ needs.
    • Wanna volunteer in Israel with me? lists all sorts of volunteering opportunities.
    • Ask local friends/family to add you to local WhatsApp groups. Every community has its own WhatsApp groups for volunteering opportunities that are close by. Since we were based out of Modiin, I had a friend add me to several Modiin groups.
  1. Let them know you’re coming. Thankfully, many people are volunteering and many locations have a max capacity per day for what help they need. Use sign-up sheets wherever possible. Best to reach out at least a day in advance, and do not expect them to return WhatsApp messages until the evening hours since they are very busy (e.g. farmers are in the fields or packing plants) during the day. 
  2. Be flexible and patient. You may have to change your plans or they may be changed for you. Farms will cancel for rain. I wanted to volunteer with evacuees in the hotels one afternoon but did not hear back from the coordinators for three different Jerusalem hotels in time and the front desk staff said they were not on the premises, so I went back to my WhatsApp groups and found challah baking for chayalim at Herzog Hospital instead. The unit we were supposed to grill for the IDF one night was canceled and replaced four times based on the army’s needs, and the pin drop location of the base was not shared until 45 minutes before the BBQ was set to begin.

I hope this article inspires you to go to Israel! To say that my trip was unlike any other time I have been to Israel is an understatement. I felt very safe, although you need to be aware of your surroundings and sirens still sound. I found people to be positive, hopeful and resolute in their faith, and it was great to be there.

Please reach out to me at [email protected] if you would like me to add you to any of the WhatsApp groups or for other information.

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