Jewish volunteers from the US are helping Israel

The group, organized by the Jewish National Fund-US, is spending a week in Israel helping in any way they can.

By Sveta Listratov, TPS

“It’s surreal to be traveling through the very landscapes where our father once tread,” remarks Gail Belfer, her voice tinged with emotion.

She gazes out the bus window at the serene green landscape of the northwest Negev, a few kilometers away from Gaza.

Gail is referring to her father, Israel Dubner, a Holocaust survivor from Lodz, Poland.

As a child, he endured unimaginable horrors at the Auschwitz concentration camp before immigrating to Israel as an orphan and later moving to the US.

Regular visits to Israel become a tradition, Gail tells TPS, but this trip holds special significance.

“These are the same roads that only a few months ago, Hamas terrorists roamed freely in their cars to murder Jews. It’s like it was meant to be — like we were meant to come here,” she says.

Shocked and pained by the October 7 massacre and the ensuing war, Gail and her sister, Jodi Gordon joined on this trip dozens of other American Jews who came to Israel to volunteer their time.

The group, organized by the Jewish National Fund-US, is spending a week in Israel helping farmers salvage crops, packing meals for soldiers, visiting hospitals and more.

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Their efforts are echoed by Lila Koenig, a college student from Chicago, who shunned the parties of spring break to honor the legacy of her grandfather, Joe Koenig.

Lila was inspired by the stories of how Koenig survived the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps, and then went on to fight in Israel’s War of Independence.

“It’s so reassuring to see everyone so positive here, they don’t let what happened on October 7th get to them,” Lila reflects. “We should use it to push us and bring everyone up, and hopefully we will get through everything.”

Lila’s mother, Suzanne looks on with admiration.

“She told me that’s what she wanted to do for a vacation- to come here to help Israel to recover”, Suzanne smiles proudly.

Suzanne visited Israel twice with her heroic father, and just last summer she also brought her daughter Lila to see the country. This visit is different.

“Being raised by a Holocaust survivor, it’s all very shocking, we always say ‘never again’, but to think that in these modern times something like this could happen and that the hostages are still not back, is just tremendously horrifying, for my family especially,” Suzanne said.

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“That’s why it’s so meaningful for us to be here, to do what my father did once, to contribute to this land, to feel we really did something.”

Interest in volunteering has surged since October 7, according to Deena Shiff, chief of staff for JNF-USA’s mission.

“About 1,600 people have come up with us to Israel until now, and we have around 2,000 more people signed up until August. We can’t keep up with the demand of people that want to come to Israel to work,” Shiff told TPS-IL.

“We in JNF put our efforts in Israel, as we know, whatever happens around the world — we as Jews have a place to go, this will always be our home.”