I’ve just returned from a three-week visit volunteering at a number of locations. Many of you are considering visiting Israel and looking for guidance on volunteer opportunities. I’d like to pass on some of the information from the last few weeks in Israel trying to find volunteer work. I hope it helps you have a more meaningful experience.
Keep in mind, you’re not a tourist. Don’t expect people to bend over backwards to find opportunities for you. You’re going to have phone numbers for farms and you’ll try to call them and they may not answer. They are very busy working and you may have to try a few times. You’ll get excited about certain assignments only to find they are filled. If you go in with the attitude that what you’re doing is an opportunity to contribute and not that the recipient of your labor should be thankful to you, your experience will be more meaningful.
I’d like to separate opportunities into three categories: 1) Those where you need lodging and are for longer periods of time; 2) daily assignments that are near you or if you have a car; and 3) random projects. Also, keep in mind that needs can change. For example, right now there is an urgent need for farm workers; in several weeks it may be too late to pick.
The first category is activities that you would do for an extended period of time and where you are provided lodging. For tourists, this might be the easiest way to satisfy your interest in volunteering with the needs of the country. It is more predictable and reliable.
- Sar-el. Vfi-USA.org. This is the Israel army volunteer program. You eat, work and sleep on the base starting Sunday until midday Thursday. You’re on your own for Shabbat. I highly recommend this program. It’s organized and reliable and once you are accepted you can plan around it. This requires advance planning.
- Farms that offer lodging and food in return for an extended stay. Working together with Beverly Luchfeld, I’ve found one, Bnei Netzarim. There likely are others but I am not aware of them. Contact me for information on this.
- The French Hospital cares for geriatric patients and needs help with the patients’ care. They are looking for long-term help but would also consider experienced caregivers for one week. They have lodging but this is more suited for health care professionals.
The second category is daily activities. There are a number of WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages that connect volunteers and organizations. These can include farms, hotels, hospitals, and other organized institutions looking for help. The challenge is that many of these require mobility. Some sites offer to connect drivers and riders. You’ll have to do some homework. Leket is an organization that could be helpful for people interested in daily jobs. It is also organized and reliable. An online version of this article will have a number of links to both WhatsApp pages and Facebook pages that are relevant. Otherwise, if you email me I’ll send you a list. Remember, the information on these lists is constantly changing.
Category three is just random things that need to be done. Help a soldier’s wife move into an apartment, cook food for chayalim, care for refugee children housed in local hotels, unload a truck, do shmira, and many other random activities that appear in the local WhatsApp pages. Ask a local resident if there is such a page, let them know you’re looking to help, and you’ll receive opportunities.
I did this in Efrat and I ended up cooking meals for soldiers, doing shmira, caring for some refugee children, and buying coffee for a number of soldiers. Had I stayed longer I would have asked the local army unit if they needed any help. I was told by a local commander that they welcome the help.
I encourage you to plan ahead as much as you can. Remember, this is not a concierge service to help you volunteer for the day. The farmer may not answer the phone, the army may give you a job you don’t like, you may think they need help and learn they have enough workers
However, it will probably be the most rewarding trip you ever take to Israel as you realize you are an important part of the war effort.