As young Israeli soldiers continue to fight a fanatical enemy in Gaza, there is another battle being waged behind the front lines. It’s the battle to save this year’s harvest on Israel’s farms and kibbutzim, and to heal a nation that has been traumatized by a genocidal attack and constant rocket bombardments.
As the horror and scale of the atrocities of October 7th became apparent, the government took the decision to mobilize Israel’s citizen army. Within 24 hours, over 300,000 reservists had dropped everything and reported to their wartime mobilization centers. Israel is a country at war, although the fighting is currently confined to certain neighborhoods in Gaza.
Mobilized reservists aren’t just fighting in Gaza, they are also dug in on Israel’s Northern border to deter an attack by Hezbollah. The country is safe due to their selfless commitment, but the reservists represent around 18% of the workforce. Businesses are struggling and the economy has slowed. Two industries have been hit especially hard by the war; one is tourism, the other is agriculture.
Jewish Volunteer Programs to Save the Harvest
Much of Israeli agriculture is located in the areas most affected by the war. The area around the Gaza border – including the devastated kibbutzim – is home to many of Israel’s fields, high tech greenhouses and dairy herds. Not only were most of the people evacuated, but the foreign workers that Israel depends on mostly returned home. For crucial days, the land was deserted, with only a few brave volunteers entering to perform the most urgent tasks.
Gil Travel specializes in organizing Jewish heritage tours in Israel. The company has years of experience, a wealth of amazing contacts and access to fascinating locations across the country. In the aftermath of the October massacres, Gil adapted its tours to include a volunteering mission at farms on the Gaza border. The life changing Jewish volunteer programs also include lectures, briefings, opportunities to talk to serving soldiers and to see the Brothers in Arms (Ahim Laneshek) relief effort in action.
Some Quick Questions about Jewish Volunteer Programs?
Most American Jews are keen to show solidarity with Israel and want to offer practical help. Many are initially cautious about flying into a country that is at war, or are concerned about whether they have the physical aptitude for active volunteering.
Is it safe to fly to Israel right now?
Yes, it’s generally safe. The situation is always subject to change, but we would not operate tours if there was a serious risk to our guests. Israel is at war, but the fighting is localized in Gaza. The wider security situation is currently under control and Israelis are going about their daily business.
Gil Travel works closely with the Israeli security forces to ensure that all itineraries and tour destinations are safe. If there is the slightest doubt about a location, we will switch to a backup itinerary. There is no shortage of fascinating places to visit and amazing people to meet in Israel!
Who can join Jewish volunteer programs?
Pretty much anybody. The agricultural volunteering mostly involves very light work and is conducted in a fun atmosphere, and the weather is currently pleasant. Nobody is expected to work beyond their physical capacity or personal inclination. If you can’t work, you can still show moral support and take the opportunity to talk to the farmers and locals.
Will I see any distressing or unpleasant sights?
Your local tour guide will discuss all aspects of your itinerary with you in advance. There may be opportunities to visit places, and meet people, who suffered in the October 7th atrocities, but nobody will be exposed to anything that they don’t want to see. There is a huge underlying sadness, and much trauma and horror, but we deal with the issues in a very sensitive and respectful way.
Explore Israel’s Famous Religious, Historical and Cultural Sites
When you make a solidarity trip to Israel, you won’t just be contributing to Israeli agriculture. Jewish volunteer programs are also helping Israel’s embattled tourist industry. Your presence will also raise the morale of every Israeli citizen who sees US Jews and other tourists visiting the country. Your trip will be a unique opportunity to visit Israel in its hour of need and to share in Israel’s determination to recover and return to normal life.
Israel is a small country (about the size of New Jersey) and it has a US style infrastructure and transport system. It’s easy to get around and to visit several different areas during a single trip. Gil has drawn on years of experience to create a superb itinerary that will let you soak up thousands of years of Jewish history and religious culture, and experience Israel’s vibrant – and irrepressible – modern culture.
Israel is a truly beautiful country. Wherever you turn, you’ll see evidence of thousands of years of Jewish heritage. You’ll also see outstanding natural beauty, especially in the North and in the Southern desert wilderness. The one aspect of every trip that really resonates with everyone is staying in Jerusalem. Exploring the Holy City, the spiritual center of Judaism, is a very special experience.
Visiting Jerusalem While You Volunteer in Israel
Your tour guide will share their expert knowledge of Israel’s capital, and its thousands of years of (sometimes tragic and often turbulent) history. You’ll get the chance to explore world famous sites like the Wailing Wall, where you can say a quiet prayer and place a personal prayer note in the crevices between the stones. Your tour will also include visits to the city’s other most important historical and religious sites.
- Visit the Israel museum and see the Dead Sea Scrolls
- The City of David archaeological site
- The Davidson Center archaeological park
- The fascinating Southern Wall excavations
- The atmospheric and enchanting Jewish Quarter of the Old City
Your time in Jerusalem will also include the option of a visit to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. This is a particularly poignant – and sometimes difficult – visit, especially after the pogrom of October 7th. The Hall of Names and the other museums and exhibitions make a deep impact on everyone who sees them.
Lunch in Jerusalem’s iconic Machne Yehuda market is a much more cheerful experience. You can sample some seriously appetizing Middle Eastern dishes, and enjoy a stroll through the bustling open-air market. If you’re accustomed to sedate and well ordered US malls, Machne Yehuda will be a real eyeopener! It’s a great way to end the week and will give you an excellent appetite for Shabbat dinner in your Jerusalem hotel.
Exploring Israel’s Outstanding Natural Beauty
The North of Israel, on the edge of the Great Rift Valley, is a stunning region. Gil Tours knows the North intimately and will take you to the very heart of the Galilee and Golan. The trip starts with a guided tour of the archaeological site at Tel Megiddo – the biblical Armageddon! You’ll then meet with our friends from Hashomer Hadash, who safeguard Israel’s natural environment with agricultural, forestry and related educational initiatives.
One of the best ways to experience the rugged beauty of the North is by jeep. Gil are experts when it comes to jeep trips and will arrange a tour that takes in the most spectacular panoramas in the North, as well as historical sites like the Valley of Tears (the site of the ferocious and decisive tank battle during the Yom kippur War). You’ll also ascend the volcanic summit of Mt. Bental. If it’s a clear day, you may be able to see as far as the edge of Damascus!
The Dead Sea and the wilderness of the Judean Desert is strikingly different from the North, but is every bit as beautiful. You’ll be amazed to find yourself at – quite literally – the lowest place on earth. The Dead Sea, flanked by stunning mountains, is 400 meters below sea level. This is very much the land of the Bible and of Jewish history. You’ll experience the true magnitude of the landscape – and its history – when you take the cable car to the desert fortress of Masada.
Your day in the desert will include an excursion to the remote desert caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden for almost two thousand years. The area is home to all kinds of wildlife and you may be lucky enough to see birds of prey and other local species. Whenever possible, you’ll get a chance to meet interesting Israelis who’ve made the desert their home, and to attend briefings and lectures with an ex-military commentator.
Sign Up for a Jewish Volunteer Program Now!
Gil Jewish volunteer programs make a direct contribution to the rescue of Israeli agriculture and to the survival of the tourist industry and tourist-dependent businesses. They also have a hugely positive effect on the morale of ordinary Israelis, many of whom felt (at least partly) abandoned by the world.
When you travel to Israel as a volunteer, you’ll meet people and make personal connections that will last a lifetime. You’ll also see, and participate, in something very special. You’ll witness first hand the determination and resilience of the Israeli people and their amazing altruism and community spirit in a time of adversity. Israel is determined to defeat terror, heal its wounds and then to rebuild and improve. You can be a part of that too!