By Yaakov Bellinsky
With the abundant life-giving rains of the past winter, green fields of robust onions, beets, kohlrabi, and cabbage, have been filling in all across the fertile fields of the Jezre’el Valley. The aromatic, vitamin-packed produce has been planted by Leket Israel as part of its innovative farm initiative and volunteerism project whose goal is to cultivate select crops as a supplement to existing sources of produce for the sole use and benefit of the needy.
“The scenic location, run from Moshav Nahalal in the Jezreel Valley of the lower Galilee, is ideal,” says Guy Yehoshua, Leket Israel’s gleaning director. “Local farmers sow the select vegetables for us on about 25 acres of fertile land, and when the fields are ripe and ready for picking, groups of volunteers are called in to harvest the crops.”
“The initiative, one of the largest volunteer projects in the country, involves local residents, school children, youth groups, agricultural college students, employees of companies in the north, tourists, IDF soldiers, National Service Corps program participants, and those from overseas Jewish communities visiting Israel as part of a Federation sponsored mission, youth group program, or family trip. The program fosters meaningful connections between Israel and overseas communities, and aims to strengthen participation from Jewish communities from all over the world,” explains Guy.
“Over the past three years, 8.8 million pounds of nutritious vegetables were grown, harvested and delivered to Israel’s poor through the project – providing a crucial addition to their daily food intake. Over 57,000 volunteers helped harvest the crop over that period.”
According to Guy, the project largely targets and is oriented to young Jewish families, children and young adults thereby improving and expanding activities available to them in community service, social justice and tikun olam for the benefit needy Israelis while connecting the participants, many unaffiliated, to Israel and the broader Jewish community.
“School and youth groups who volunteer with the project, receive an on-site presentation by one of our field coordinators, including a discussion of the problem of nutritional insecurity and the environmental impacts of paradoxical food waste in the face of vast levels of poverty in the country,” explains Guy.
“The initiative is playing an important role in educating children and youth to the importance of the environment and Jewish communal values.”
Through the engagement of an estimated 17,000-18,000 volunteers in the field (over 50% children and youth) during 2017, the project actively works to recruit and train the next generation of Jewish leaders through a meaningful hands-on experience while leveraging the volunteer’s in-kind service to support the nutritional needs of the poor.
“In addition to promoting volunteerism and encouraging partnerships throughout all sectors of Israeli society, the project provides Grade-A vegetables to Israel’s needy as a way to enhance our food rescue operations with added nutrition,” explains Guy. “All the fresh vegetables harvested on site by volunteers are delivered weekly by Leket Israel to over 200 non-profits including soup kitchens, shelters, senior homes, and other food providers serving vulnerable Israelis throughout the country.”
“We are proud to consider the Jewish Federation of New Mexico an important partner in our work to promote volunteerism in Israel’s north while providing for the nutritional needs of Israel’s poor,” stated Joseph Gitler, Leket Israel’s Founder and President.
“This is a true win-win opportunity” says Joseph. “Volunteering is wonderful way for youth to give back to the community, while connecting to the land of Israel and working physically to let out all the excess energy they have.”
Schedule a visit to volunteer picking produce or join Leket Israel in one of its open picking days in proximity to the high holidays. To learn more about the initiative, or to sign up to volunteer, please visit Leket Israel’s website at: www.leket.org/en or email: firstname.lastname@example.org