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Help Livnot rebuild devastated Israeli communities

Volunteer or make a gift to support Livnot U’Lehibanot’s vital work to clean, paint, and beautify schools, social halls, and homes destroyed by Hamas on October 7

Livnot U'Lehibanot volunteers in the south of Israel
Livnot U'Lehibanot volunteers in the south of Israel

Please consider volunteering or making a gift to support Livnot U’Lehibanot’s (“To Build & Be Built”) vital work to renovate and rebuild Israeli kindergartens, community centers, and private homes damaged since October 7.

For the past two months, Livnot has been the only organization rebuilding communities in the Gaza corridor. Twelve professional workers alongside weekly volunteers have completed over 50 projects in 15 Israeli settlements on the Gaza border. With no one else to turn to, regional and local officials called Livnot to rebuild their communities with Jewish workers. Livnot is now starting in Be’eri, Nahal Oz, and others severely destroyed. Your support will help us do what needs to be done so that residents can return to their homes and begin to rebuild their lives.

The following is a personal reflection from a recent participant in Livnot U’Lehibanot’s Help Rebuild The South volunteer program:

“I spent February 18 to 22 volunteering for Livnot’s Help Rebuild The South volunteer program, which is based in Sderot with the goal of helping to assist in the rebuilding of communities that were devastated by Hamas’ attack on October 7. It was one of the most emotional and powerful weeks I have ever experienced.

“We were all middle-aged adults, all looking to help Israeli communities affected so terribly by the events of October 7. For four days, we worked for 4-6 hours a day, cleaning and painting homes and public spaces, and helping to beautify the communities.

“For the work alone that we did, it was a gratifying and satisfying week. But there was more to the week than those warm feelings. We got to meet with those who lived through October 7. They wanted to tell their story of what happened. They were more than willing to share with us very difficult, raw moments. We also met soldiers and just passers-by. Everyone wanted to say thank you to us. I will try to briefly speak about the activities and events over the week.

“Upon our arrival, we had a brief tour of Sderot, viewing the large empty space that used to be the police station. Taken over by terrorists, it was destroyed intentionally by Israel.

“A large Chanukiah stands there for now, surrounded by memorial candles. The next day we saw the carnage of vehicles from the Rave party. There was a German Christian group at the site, on a tour of solidarity. A Zaka member was talking to them about his experience. Only recently Zaka stopped looking for traces of people to ensure proper burial.

“We stopped at Shuva, an impromptu R&R spot for soldiers. Everyone can stop there for a hot meal, clothing, and just a place to relax. Lots of civilians drop by, from far and wide, to visit friends in the army. All staffed by volunteers, no cost to anyone. Our group washed dishes, along with a couple from Australia, to make our contribution.

Support Livnot’s work to help displaced Israelis

“We visited one community where a resident walked with us to narrate the events of October 7, telling us exactly what happened at each house, who died, recounting their names to make sure he didn’t miss anyone. His wife is head of the community; she felt helpless on that day, unable to respond to those who pleaded for help. He spoke of the Gazan workers, people they thought could be trusted. One family did call to apologize but he doubted their sincerity. Palestinian workers will not be returning very soon. We also saw the completed projects from previous Livnot groups.

““One day as we were painting, we were visited by a major in the army, who came by to thank us for our efforts. ‘What do you do when you are not serving?’ we asked. He’s a Professor (PhD) of Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University. He spoke about Livnot being builders. ‘We, Israelis, are builders,’ he said. ‘They, Hamas, are destroyers.’

“The major came by the next night when we visited a small army base in a forest. It was a small unit of 20 soldiers, including two tanks, whose main job is to protect the border area. Our task that night was to make a barbecue, so that the soldiers could get a good hot meal as opposed to canned tuna. I helped prepare burgers, kebabs and chicken wings.

“The 2 tank commanders encouraged us to come and take a look at their tanks. One was aged 48, the other 52. They were volunteering; at their age they could be excused from duty. They have sons serving at the same time. They let us sit inside the tanks, gladly helping us in and out.

“The major came by. He is helping in preparation for future security for the border communities. There is no hesitation for the job to be done in Gaza. ‘We will rebuild,’ he says. Livnot is one of the only organizations helping on the ground in that effort to bring the residents back.

“Then there was the family that is renting their home in Sderot to Livnot as a residence for the volunteers. They have moved to Kiryat Gat for now because the events of October 7 were too traumatic. The wife, in her early thirties, spoke to us with such emotion. She lost her best friend that day. But she had to share her story and wants to continue to share the story. People must hear. ‘It was our Holocaust,’ she said. But she is confident that Sderot will be back, stronger and safer. ‘It is our home, it is our land, and we will not leave.’ Such faith and resiliency, despite everything. She then made pizza dough so we could make our own pizzas in their pizza oven. She took challah (no, the family is not observant) and said a blessing for our soldiers. As she spoke, I looked at her, full of tears and emotion.

“We had a presentation about ethics and warfare. The speaker told us real stories of the challenges of fighting. The soldiers dread the idea of killing, even terrorists. ‘We have a conscience,’ he said. ‘We are a professional army, there is no room for hate.’

“As we work on the street, painting murals on bomb shelters, people driving by stop their cars. ‘Who are you with?’ they ask nicely. And we explain, and they respond: ‘kol hakavod, kol hakavod.’ They smile because they know they are not alone, that their fellow Jews care about them. That we come from thousands of miles away to support Israel.

“I am often asked what is the mood here? It is not despair — it is hope. There has been a shattering of trust in the upper echelons, of politicians and military leaders. But the people still love and trust their soldiers, those who are fighting. ‘I am fighting because it is my backyard,’ says the 52 year old tank commander. ‘It is my home,’ says the woman who lost her best friend.

“No one knows how this war will end, what the future of this country will look like. But remember, here there is courage, bravery, resiliency, faith, caring, and hope. Despite how it is portrayed, we can rightly be proud of Israel. Able to clearly see good from evil. Able to act in ways that epitomize that goodness.

“I am going back in March to do another week with Livnot.”

– Harvey Cohen, February 2024

About Livnot U’Lehibanot — and how you can help

Livnot U’Lehibanot (To Build and to be Built) is a non-profit organization founded in 1980 with two campuses in Tzfat. Our Israel experience programs are holistic as well as physically and spiritually challenging, connecting participants to their Jewish heritage in an open environment.

We aspire to strengthen Jewish identity through community building activities such as hiking the Land of Israel to learn Jewish values from nature, educational classes, community service, and meaningful interactions with local Israelis. Livnoters are often post-college young adults seeking spirituality and the opportunity to take part in building the Land of Israel and themselves in the process. Livnot has been the official ‘Spiritual’ extension and Shabbaton for Birthright/Onward Israel Participants.

On Livnot’s main campus in Tzfat is a 16th century neighborhood, which was excavated and declared an Israel National Heritage Site. An underground tunnel was also dug and unearthed over a dozen 500-year-old water cisterns and storerooms. Descending seven levels below the Old City of Tzfat, visitors arrive at Beit HaKahal. The tunnel tour is guided by an audio/visual encounter with 4 Kabbalists from the Golden Era of Tzfat, including a little known female Kabbalist, Francisca Sara.

In 2006-08, Livnot was asked by UJA New York to repair bomb shelters in the North. Over 220 of them were made usable by 25 local Israeli professionals and thousands of volunteers. This model is now being replicated in the Gaza Corridor communities damaged since October 7.

According to the IDF, Livnot is the only organization actively renovating in the South. In order to attract residents to return home, the Army requested Livnot to step-in and prepare schools, community centers, and homes infiltrated by Hamas.

Over 500 homes on the northern border have also been damaged by rockets and Livnot will soon expand our work/volunteering program to there as well.

To learn more about Livnot’s Volunteering Program, please visit: Volunteer with Livnot

Help us expand our impact to help bring 170,000 displaced Israeli residents home by contributing today:Support Livnot’s work to help displaced Israelis