From The U.s. To Israel Steadily Increasing With Hands-On Opportunities From Farm Work To Packing Meals And Supplies
In the wake of the October 7th attacks, several organizations are coordinating humanitarian trips and unity missions to Israel to provide hands-on assistance to the country and its people. Voluntourism, a term coined for volunteer tourism, especially agritourism (agriculture tourism), is increasing as the urgent need for help continues and in response, organizations offer opportunities on the ground, from helping farmers with their harvests to packing care kits for injured civilians and soldiers in the hospital.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s farming communities have lost approximately $500 million in income since the October 7 attacks. More than 300,000 Israeli reservists, many employed by small farms and wineries to work the land, have been called up for duty leaving farmers without a workforce to tend the fields potentially creating a massive shortage in the Israeli food chain supply. Israel’s wine industry is facing a similar crisis with many young winemakers now serving in the military. Local winemakers are assisting their neighbors and colleagues, but opportunities to help with the fermentation, handling of stainless-steel tanks and pumps, and bottling are needed.
Several U.S.-based organizations and international tour companies are coordinating unity missions to Israel, including:
• The Jewish National Fund has several trips planned for December and into the new year. JNF often includes a volunteer component on their tours and right now that is the sole focus. On these solidarity volunteer trips, participants should be prepared to roll up their sleeves and work wherever needed–from picking fruit on farms that are short staffed due to the war, to packing meals.
• The founder of Pomegranate Travel, Hannah Blustin, will lead a unity tour with insider access to Israel in mid-January with volunteer opportunities as well as visits with displaced communities and families of fallen soldiers.
• Taglit-Birthright Israel, known for organizing Jewish birthright trips for young adults, has shifted its focus to engage volunteers by taking part in food rescue operations, including sorting, packing and distributing goods for civil and military personnel, which can help prevent shortages in the Israeli market.
• Volunteers for Israel (VFI), an American organization that organizes civilian volunteer opportunities to work on an IDF (Israel Defense Forces) base. Volunteers help with everything from packing medical supplies to packing meal kits for soldiers.
“Since Israel was attacked, I have been wanting to help in a meaningful way. Until I heard about the volunteer opportunity with JNF, I was concerned that if I went to Israel to try to volunteer, I would be more of a hindrance than a help. When I heard about the JNF volunteer mission trips, I signed up for the very first one,” said Courtney Mizel, a volunteer from California. “One of the days I spent working on a farm, pulling weeds from around green onion plants! It’s physically intense but every minute is so meaningful–this trip certainly isn’t about vacation or sightseeing! But I have felt so connected to the land of Israel.”
In addition to organizations offering volunteer opportunities to Israel, global companies, such as TAL Aviation Group who sent a group of employees to pick pomegranates, have enlisted staff to help on the ground as well and countless Israel-based companies are joining in, both during work and after hours, to contribute filling in on the labor shortages.
“While leisure travel has been paused for now, voluntourism to Israel is gaining momentum with people of all ages and faiths,” said Eyal Carlin, Israel’s tourism commissioner to North America. “These purpose-driven unity missions are helping to keep Israel’s farming communities, as well as other industries, productive. Since October 7, the country’s workforce has been depleted. We are grateful to the many men, women and youth who have traveled to Israel to volunteer their time and talents.”