Doing our Part
BY JENNIFER (KOROBKIN) NIMAN
On Shabbat October 7 – Shemini Atzeret in chutz la’aretz – my husband came home from shul and said he heard a war broke out in Israel. My neighbor heard something about Arab paragliders over the Gaza border. It all sounded like crazy science fiction until Sunday night, when yom tov ended and we saw the news. The real news. It was all true, and worse than anything we could have imagined. Newscasters on CNN, usually no friends of Israel, were openly crying during the broadcast. Horrifying images, stories of pogroms, hostages, rape, murders, beheadings… And yes, paragliders infiltrating over the border.
For days, we in chutz la’aretz walked around in a daze, trying to get accurate news. Nothing was good. So many killed, so many kidnapped. And in the pit of our stomachs, more than anything, we felt: what can I do to help?
Finally an email went out asking for volunteers at Israeli farms. I filled out the form right away and quietly was thankful they didn’t ask for my age! I was told that I was accepted, to buy a ticket and let them know my arrival date.
It wasn’t very organized; I didn’t even know who I was corresponding with. Just show up? Really? OK!
So I did. I bought a ticket to arrive in Israel on November 29. I ordered gardening gloves, packed my baseball hat collection, a sweatshirt, two pairs of sneakers, and off I went.
Thank G-d I joined some Facebook and WhatsApp groups targeted towards other potential volunteers. This opened up so many options. I joined a WhatsApp group manned by a couple of tzaddikim in New Jersey and signed up to volunteer in Bnei Netzarim in the Gaza envelope to do whatever farm work they needed.
Bnei Netzarim is a Religious Zionist moshav that was rebuilt following their expulsion from Gush Katif. The streets look like quaint San Fernando Valley cul-de-sacs in a pastoral setting. Situated 8 kilometers from the Egyptian border and right next to Gaza – just south of Be’eri – we could see lights from Egypt and hear our boys pounding Gaza with bombs and artillery at night.
The moshav has a midrasha whose dorms were perfect for housing us volunteers. Nothing fancy, but it was clean with decent bathrooms and beds, and the price was right (free!).
We arrived at the moshav on a Sunday morning. Our driver Daniel, a gentleman from South Carolina, generously rented a large van to drive us all down from Jerusalem. We were a motley crew – a couple of 60-something ladies from LA, two olim and two Jews from New York – all heading south for an adventure and to work the Land.
We spent five full days working. Upon arrival, we went straight to a tomato greenhouse field, where we were told to trim the leaves off the branches from the knees down. We started by bending over but after 15 minutes – oy, our backs hurt. We dropped to our knees. After 20 minutes our knees hurt! So we dropped onto our tushes, and scooted from one plant to the next. We were trimming and laughing all at once! We kept at it until sunset. After showering, we were hosted by a moshav family for a delicious 3-course salmon dinner, including homemade ice cream. It was so meaningful to meet this family with nine children, whose husband and father was fighting in Gaza – just a few kilometers away, but another world.
Days 2 and 3 took us to the dragonfruit fields, where we learned to tie the cactus-like leaves in an upward position. It was prickly and difficult work! Our neighbors were the milk cows mooing all day.
On day 4, we pruned, picked and packed cherry tomatoes, which was fun and up my alley since we could sit down while working. This farm even had a bathroom!
On day 5, my friend Perla and I packaged passion fruits, called passiflora in Hebrew, which was a beautiful and fragrant activity. The guys went to pick pineapples – a much harder task.
Every night at 6 PM we were served a delicious Israeli dinner – usually schnitzel with all the Israeli salads and dips. Working on a farm certainly builds an appetite! After dinner, we’d walk around the moshav and watch the fireballs explode over Gaza, proudly knowing it’s “our boys” taking care of business and keeping us safe. We heard no sirens and saw no missiles. We slept deeply each night, like true manual laborers.
Over the next two weeks, I volunteered in other locations, making sandwiches for soldiers at Aroma in Beit Shemesh, helping at an old age home that lost its foreign workers, and tying tzitzit for soldiers.
I encourage all of my peers who have not made Aliyah yet to go volunteer. You will get more out of it than you can imagine – and our people need us.
● Watch Mizrachi’s video featuring Jennifer and the other volunteers at: youtu.be/h7wjl6l2CCk
Jennifer (Korobkin) Niman was raised and still lives in Los Angeles. Jennifer travels to Israel as often as she can to see her Yerushalmi kids and most recently to volunteer in the October 7 war effort for a full month. Jennifer and her husband Tzvi aspire to make Aliyah in the future.