At times, Israelis may feel isolated in the world. They face increased condemnation at the UN. They see Jews around the world who criticize Israel or who actually protest against Israel. They may feel that people have forgotten the reasons how and why the State of Israel was created or why the land of Israel commands such a deep and personal connection for the Jews. They know that people don’t always understand the complexities of the political situation. What they see instead is growing anti-Semitism, the rise of extremism, BDS on college campuses and increased threats on their borders. They may feel alone.
But thanks to a little known volunteer program that makes a huge impact, there is an opportunity to show Israelis that they are loved and supported. Volunteers for Israel (VFI) is a good example of a small program that is making a difference. Through VFI, Israelis know firsthand that there are many people around the world who care about them. They see that people come from around the world – Jewish, non-Jewish, old, young, men, women – to spend a week or two or three living in rustic conditions, wearing army fatigues, eating mediocre food, working at tedious jobs, leaving their families behind and using their precious vacation time – to volunteer for VFI and work on a non-combat IDF army base. Volunteers do it because it gives them an opportunity to give back and make a difference to the Israeli people. And by doing so, they show the Israelis that they are not alone. They “stand WITH Israel, IN Israel.”
When I volunteered in July, 2016, I experienced firsthand the surprise, appreciation, even gratitude that Israelis felt for the VFI volunteers. Especially because they all served in the army, the soldiers and civilian supervisors alike enjoy positive experiences with the volunteers. They see that many volunteers are willing to work under difficult conditions and do exceptional work that frees the soldiers to do more important work.
Everyone I spoke to in Israel – friends, relatives, cab drivers, waiters alike, was very appreciative of what we were doing, and they expressed their gratitude in a typically Israeli way: They smiled and said “Kol Hakavod…we HAVE to do this, but YOU???”