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Extending a Helping Hand to Farmers in Israel’s South

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Tel Aviv University’s students, staff and faculty work the fields near the Gazan border.

In the last seven weeks about 800 TAU students, faculty and staff have traveled to farms near the Israeli-Gaza border to provide much-needed assistance in agricultural work. Farmers in border communities found themselves among the groups most affected by war ever since it began on October 7th. “Ever since the University started organizing volunteering activities, we saw that some of the most urgent calls came from local farmers who were left without workers and were struggling for help,” explains Meirav Levy, the head of Tel Aviv University’s Community Outreach at the Equity and Diversity Commission. The initial connection between TAU volunteer coordinators and farmers on the ground was made through Prof. Yftah Gepner of TAU’s School of Public Health. Gepner, who lives down south near the small town of Ein haBesor, was involved in the horrific events there on October 7th and saved his injured brother from the terrorists. “Prof. Gepner connected us with the farmers, and since then our coordinators have been in direct contact with them, determining their needs in real-time and directing efforts accordingly,” Levy explains. Three times a week a bus with about 40 TAU volunteers arrives at the farm that needs it most to salvage the harvest or help sow a new one. Many volunteers return again and again, getting to know the farmers better and forming personal bonds.
“I’d rather be here, helping out, than sitting far away in front of my computer and reading the news,” says Ari Spielman, a student in the International MA in Environmental Studies Program at TAU’s Lowy International School.
Spielman arrived in Israel from New York the day after the war broke out and decided to stay. Since then he has been active in many volunteering initiatives, even forming a non-profit to collect money abroad for purchasing essential supplies for the evacuees. It’s his third time helping on a farm.
The Tel Aviv University group of volunteers, including international students, research students, faculty and staff
Many other international and Israeli students volunteer on the farms, as well as Israeli doctoral and post-doc students, faculty and staff.
“I recommend to anyone who can – go out into the fields and help out our farmers. They are in dire need of capable hands. I spent a day picking beautiful tomatoes, and for us volunteers, the feeling is great and very rewarding, but of course, this is a very temporary solution. If something is not done to systematically help out Israeli agriculture, our food security could be at risk in the next crisis,” says Adi Walzer, Head of Content at TAU’s Marketing Division.
Levy of TAU’s Community Outreach believes that the assistance to farms in the periphery not only addresses an immediate need but also fosters strong connections with the agricultural community for the long term.

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