When you think of Gen-Z teenagers, you immediately picture them with a smartphone in hand, recording themselves for yet another TikTok video.
What you don’t imagine is seeing these teens with their sleeves rolled up, helping farmers pick produce and working the land.
Founded in 2007 to guard Israeli farmers from agricultural crimes like arson and theft, the volunteer organization also links Israelis and diaspora Jews more closely to the land of Israel and Zionist values through volunteering.
Teens of all ages, from all backgrounds, can volunteer for as little as a few hours a day to carry out a variety of agricultural tasks — each according to his or her ability — across the country, says Chen Shantal, director of the organization’s multi-day activity educational programme.
The climate crisis and environmental changes exacerbate the problem. “If, for example, there are downpours in the middle of May or drought in the winter, or heat strokes, we get even more requests for assistance from farmers.”
Education always accompanies the physical tasks. “We explain [to the volunteers] why we are doing this instead of just importing all produce from overseas and why it’s important to maintain the connection with the land,” Shantal explains.
HaShomer HaChadash recruits adult volunteers during the school year, while in summer it appeals to teens who don’t want to “waste their holidays in front of the TV.”
Each July, the organization runs summer camps up north in the Golan Heights for kids ages 13 to 18 to experience “the agricultural journey.” In August, the organization offers similar activities down south in the Negev.
A group of schoolchildren volunteering at HaShomer HaChadash. Photo courtesy of HaShomer HaChadash
Besides agricultural work, the three-day camps include hiking, educational sessions and campfire dinners. This is open to families and individuals from abroad, as well.
Reut, a past camper, says the experience changed her life. She is now part of HaShomer HaChadash’s leadership program, helping new immigrants from Ethiopia who want to volunteer at the farms.
Reut says she had always been indifferent to agriculture before her summer experience.
What about the day when all agricultural work will be done by machines?
“I am very afraid of that day,” says Shantal. “When you don’t have a part of you invested in a particular thing, that thing loses meaning and then it disappears. It can be your home, your land or your culture,” she adds.
“Our connection to nature and land is like air. You cannot live without it.”
Produced in association with ISRAEL21c
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