The author’s husband, Dr. Scott Fields, picking tangerines in southern Israel, on Kibbutz Nitzanim. (photo by Deborah Rubin Fields)
I have just returned from laundry brigade duty. Of course, your first question is, what is the laundry brigade? As you may or may not know, in my city of Jerusalem, as well as in other parts of Israel, the hotels are currently filled with people who, for safety’s sake, have left their homes in southern and northern Israel. These moves have created an unprecedented event in Israel’s history. As one friend from Adamit, a far northern kibbutz pointed out, “We are refugees in our own country.”
In my neighbourhood, as well as in other Jerusalem neighbourhoods, residents are volunteering to clean the clothes of those evacuated to hotels. This help is very organized, with a pool of volunteers listed on an Excel file. So, I just returned the laundered clothes of a young family from the northern town of Shlomi.
And, speaking of clothes, there have been clothing drives to help those who left their homes quickly. Books and games have also been donated so that displaced families have some positive way to occupy their time.
But there are so many other noteworthy acts of goodness. One of our sons and other staff from Kfar Saba’s Meir Hospital recently drove south to the Netivot area to help a farmer pick and box watermelon. The farmer’s usual Thai or Palestinian workers are gone. In their place, hundreds, if not thousands of ordinary citizens are in the fields picking – and this is happening all over the country.
One of our daughters spent a week at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Art School sewing uniforms and add-ons for protective ceramic vests, equipment the soldiers currently need. Sewing machines were even delivered to some kibbutzim so kibbutz members could also help with this task.
While there is enough food for soldiers, some people are still providing extra food. One Jerusalem restaurant owner prepared a meal for 70 soldiers (including his son) serving up north. The food was driven to the soldiers by someone else whose partner is serving with this platoon. In my area, one of my older religious neighbours gave his Pesach dishes to observant soldiers who are staying in a university dorm (camping “in” rather than “out” as it were).
There has been a big emphasis on checking people who live alone or who have mobility issues. Volunteers are helping with shopping, picking up medication, or just visiting these solitary individuals.
During this war period, Jerusalem’s branch of Magen David Adom has held more than one blood drive. Each turnout has been unbelievable, as potential donors stood in line for hours waiting their turn. Moreover, in addition to the sandwiches the MDA staff and volunteers regularly eat on their extended 12-hour shifts, volunteers have been cooking and delivering meals (including vegetarian portions) to the staff.
On the kibbutz where one of our sons lives with his family, each family is responsible for the needs of the 100 evacuees who are currently living on the kibbutz. Yad Sarah, the Israeli nonprofit that loans medical equipment, has offered to loan equipment that the evacuees were unable to take with them. In addition, volunteers have given their time to fix up these temporary living spaces while other locals have organized hazit habayit, drop-off sites where furniture and electronics are collected for those who have had to relocate. Another nonprofit, Tenufa Bakehila, is right now fixing up neglected bomb shelters and repairing homes damaged by rockets.
Other nonprofits have opened their doors to evacuees. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel has people lodging in its Eilat Field School. For the past month, it has likewise been providing meals.
All over the country, evacuated children have been enrolled in local schools. Even the National Library of Israel has become involved. It just moved into a beautiful new building, but its old building on Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus has become a temporary school for children from Shlomi.
There is the story of a small family consisting of two sons and the father. When one son, Sgt. Maj. (Res) Gil Phishitz, was killed on Friday, Nov. 3, the word went out on social media. Thousands of people dropped what they were doing to attend the funeral in Hadera. Out of respect and to show support for the tremendous sacrifice of these fallen soldiers, people who don’t personally know the families have also been visiting during the shiva period.
Israeli farmers employ many Thai citizens. On Oct. 7, some of the Thai farm workers witnessed their co-workers being kidnapped. Some even saw their friends brutally murdered by Hamas. Our younger son, along with other volunteers, has been helping Thai workers find necessary food, lodging and medical care. Volunteers organized counselors and translators to help these people deal with what could easily turn into post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Volunteers advocated for these Thai workers with the Ministry of Agriculture and with local councils. At this point, many (estimates are 8,000 out of 30,000) Thai farm workers have left Israel.
In some places, acupuncturists and massage therapists are offering free sessions to people who have been evacuated. Several social workers and psychologists continue to give voluntary assistance to those put up in Dead Sea hotels.
Volunteerism is not just with people, it is also with animals. Volunteers have gone to the south to rescue pets and farm animals that were left behind. Veterinarians have provided medical care for injured animals. The rescued animals are now in shelters, awaiting foster homes.
Last, but certainly not least. In the big cities such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, many have been showing up at memorial services and vigils for the fallen and the kidnapped.
Why are people doing all these things? I think the best answer comes from Hillel in the Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot), 1:14: “If I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”
Deborah Rubin Fields is an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams, published in English, Hebrew and Arabic.