My Volunteer Experience In Israel After October 7

I, along with 21 other Jewish Americans whom I had not met before, embarked on a mission to lend a hand, give a hug, and say to Israel: “Here I am! You are not alone.”

By Lee Zinn
January 22, 2024

I arrived in Israel on January 4. All the seats on the entire plane were filled with people on a mission!  I could almost forget why I was there. I was expecting things to feel grim, given that Israel was at war, yet I felt safe. I felt that I was with my people from the get-go. When the plane finally landed around 5PM, the sun was starting to set.  To my surprise, the airport was unusually quiet. There were no lines at the passport check-in.  That was very strange, since in all my previous visits, the lines were very long and the reception hall very loud.  As I made my way down the ascending hall, there were posters  of each individual who was taken hostage lining both sides. It set the tone for the deep grief that Israel was dealing with.

I did not know what to expect. Most of my previous trips to Israel were for weddings or vacations.  This time, 300,000 people were being called in to serve. Among them were seven cousins of my husband’s and mine, both for regular service (Sadir) and as reservists (Milu-eem). One cousin was shot in the leg while in Gaza and was having surgery while I was there.

Through Authentic Israel, which does work alongside Taglit and Birthright/Masa, I, along with 21 other Jewish Americans whom I had not met before, embarked on a mission to lend a hand, give a hug, and say to Israel: “Here I am! You are not alone.”

We volunteered at Pantry Packers, sponsored by Chabad, where we packed a few thousands pounds of dried goods such as grains and flours and cereal and shipped them to families in need. Each packet was personalized with a label of the volunteer group and the packet’s destination. I could almost see the relieved smiles on the faces of the recipients.

We also volunteered in Leket Israel, where agricultural produce that otherwise would go to waste was being cultivated and brought in for redistribution. Otef Gaza kibbutzim brought over the volunteers. All the previous paid workers were either Palestinians from Gaza who could not enter Israel during the war or Thai workers on working Visas who had left. We managed to pack some 58,000 lbs of produce to be delivered to 16,700 families that week.

We also helped prepare fresh home cooked meals (choolant, salmon, salts, etc) for the soldiers on the front for Shabbat at Ve-a-avta Lereach Kamocha (“you should love your neighbor like thyself”). Ve-a-avta Lereach Kamocha is a nonprofit, volunteer-based organization that receives its allocation from charities, including Leket Israel. It helps prepare home cooked meals for the needy and for the soldiers during war times. The warehouse that had seemed very unassuming when we entered was producing an average of 1,000-5,000 meals a day. The aroma was intoxicating–Sepahrdic cooking with cinnamon, harissa, dates, and peppers. Each tray filled to the brim with delight. We were able to add a dedication on each of the lids. Interestingly, that was what made us cry. Really cry—it was not chopping the onions that brought tears to our eyes.


We also prepared sandwiches for daily delivery. 1,700 soldiers would enjoy the love and support we packed in each meal!

At one of many such apartments in Jerusalem, the 3 bedrooms were quickly converted into a kitchen cooking and supply purveyor. In one room they set up a folding table and chairs to assemble sandwiches. We cut the bread and added the cold cuts there. In another room we cut the vegetables. In the next room we wrote small notes to the soldiers, and in the final room all those were packed and sealed individually for immediate delivery. We prepared some 400 sandwiches that day!


Meanwhile, some 200,000  Israelis were displaced from their homes due to the war. They are living in hotel rooms. It might sound luxurious initially, but 3 months in and they are still unable to return because of their destroyed homes or continued fighting. They have neither access to their personal belongings nor any of their earthly possessions. I was stunned by the initiative of the individuals, local municipalities, large corporations, and small businesses—who donated anything they could. Clothes, cosmetics, cooked foods, laundry centers, and even impromptu child care centers. There were literally individuals freeing up their apartments and turning them into food prep stations. There was laundry for the displaced. There were daycare centers. And there was my favorite, Shlom Bayit Cafe, where couples could have an hour long break from anything and be served coffee and pastries and be on a date! Municipalities and individuals created free events to bring people out to watch movies, to dance, to exercise, and more, to help people resume normalcy despite their loved ones being away from home. In times of war, it is so important for people not to lose hope and love. We have to stay truly united to accept our soldiers when they return from the fight and need someone to be strong for them.

We also visited Ruca’s Farm where soldiers who suffer from PTSD can come and participate in agriculture, take yoga classes, and have meditation sessions. One of our team members, Marc Bernstein, and his two brothers John and Art helped run it. It was all run by volunteers, and all free of charge.

Achim L’chaim: Brothers For Life is a brand new facility where injured soldiers can come by to exercise, eat, play, chill, and talk to one another, all free of charge. In fact, the IDF puts each and every injured soldier in touch with this organization.

We also had speakers like Neil Lazarus from Amazing Seminars, who talked to us about the current situation, and a hostage, Aviva Seigel, who talked about her horrific experience while in the tunnels.

Seigel, age 62, was released from Gaza after 51 days as a hostage. Her husband, Keith Seigal, 64, American, is still there, and not in good health. The horrors she shared with us from the tunnels still haunt me.

We also visited with a survivor of the Nova festival who shared with us the heroic and harrowing way he managed to escape while under gunfire. He now suffers from extreme PTSD.

Overall,  it was an amazing visit that nurtured a sense of duty and solidarity.  We went to lend a helping hand and we were met by so much love and appreciation of us being there. The people we met were stunned to see us and many other volunteers coming by to help. It was not taken for granted; it was greatly appreciated.

It meant so much to me to be in Israel in time of need in addition to sending monetary assistance. Being there, helping, rolling up my sleeves and doing menial work when it was needed meant the world to me as a way of showing care to the land that I love.

If you are interested in volunteering, has some other ways for you to get involved.


For those who would like to travel on a similar experience to Israel, the Jewish Federation of San Antonio is organizing a Solidarity Mission to the Western Galilee region of Israel, on March 3-7, 2024.

Participants will learn how the war impacts the people in our Partnership region, volunteer in the Western Galilee service center, visit schools, and see firsthand the impact of our Israel Crisis Funds. Those interested can register here: for this amazing opportunity.

The Norman and Anita Davis CRC Endowment Fund has generously sponsored a limited number of scholarships for young leaders to attend this solidarity mission to Israel.

Young Adults interested in applying for the scholarship, contact Lisa Epstein, JCRC Director, at