Since the deadly October 7 Hamas attacks that led Israel to war in Gaza, the Lev Echad (One Heart) civil-aid organization has mobilized more than 50,000 volunteers to assist families of victims and hostages, the elderly, displaced residents, farmers, business owners and soldiers.
One Heart has plenty of experience. In addition to aiding Israelis through military conflicts and other upheavals for the past 18 and a half years, the organization also sent humanitarian-aid delegations to war-torn Ukraine and to Morocco following last September’s earthquake.
Dealing with social and economic consequences of the Gaza conflict brings One Heart back to its roots. When the Israeli government forcibly evacuated 8,600 citizens from 17 southern Gaza communities in August 2005, the country was nearly torn apart by debate over this policy. Would pulling all Jews out of Gaza end the terror and rocket attacks launched from that southwest coastal strip since 2001? Or would it lead to disaster?
Students at the Ein Prat premilitary leadership academy in Kfar Adumim, outside Jerusalem, were similarly divided on this issue. But they chose to sideline the debate and unite around assisting the evacuees, who were bused to hotels in the middle of the night and then pretty much abandoned by the government without employment or housing solutions.
Five of the students spearheaded an emergency initiative dubbed Lev Echad (One Heart). They recruited some 10,000 volunteers who spent four months helping traumatized evacuees get back on their feet.
One Heart was intended as a one-time response to the Gaza evacuee crisis. But when Israel came under attack from Lebanon less than a year later, Ein Prat’s leaders revived the organization, mobilizing volunteers to assist northerners during the 34-day war.
Tomer Dror, one of the original five founders and now One Heart’s CEO, says that since then, One Heart has been active in more than 10 crisis situations in Israel. During the pandemic, it recruited between 60,000 and 70,000 volunteers to aid citizens locked down at home.
In February 2022, the organization sent a delegation to help Ukrainians develop their own version of One Heart.
“In the process, we also learned a lot from the Ukrainians,” said Dror. “And when October 7 happened, we were more trained and prepared to build the network we needed to help Israelis.”
For the first six weeks, One Heart ran mental-health hotlines; arranged hosts for displaced families; collected, packaged and distributed food, equipment and hygiene products; provided transportation for members of the security forces; arranged babysitters for families of reserve soldiers; sent volunteers to funerals and shiva houses; and more.
“Since the beginning of the war, we’ve mobilized about 50,000 volunteers altogether,” added Dror.
One Heart and its philanthropic partners are now concentrating on three specific challenges. The first is aiding the 130,000 evacuees from the south and north, including 48,000 children under 18.
They’ve coordinated education programs for displaced kids living in hotels. With Palo Alto Networks, they built a kitchen for evacuees housed in the southern Midreshet Sde Boker boarding school, enabling the displaced Israelis to cook for themselves.
With other corporate partners, One Heart arranged coworking places for displaced freelancers and are finding jobs for unemployed evacuated adults (more on that below).
“Long term, we plan to help the displaced Israelis move back home,” sai Dror, a 37-year-old father of four.
The second part of the current focus is assisting families of hostages, families of injured soldiers, and families of reserve and career soldiers who have been fighting in the war for more than three months.
The third aspect is sending volunteers – including from diaspora communities — to work in severely understaffed farms and factories. Some volunteers are foreigners, like Dr. Paula Rackoff, a rheumatologist from New York City who went to Ukraine three times with One Heart and planned to go again in December. After October 7, she suggested organizing volunteer groups from abroad. She joined one recently.
For two weeks, she picked tomatoes, weeded, laid irrigation pipes, donated blood, cleaned bomb shelters, visited wounded soldiers, and much more. “It’s a really critical time for Israel and for Jews to show up and help,” she said.
As part of One Heart’s initiative in Ukraine, delegations from several Israeli companies, such as JFrog and Enlight, flew over to deliver humanitarian aid to refugees. Fiverr and Monday ran projects with OneHeart there.
On October 8, Fiverr CEO Ofer Katz came to One Heart headquarters offering to help.
“He took upon himself the mission of recruiting high-tech companies to be part of the effort and he got many to donate money and services,” says Dror.
In addition, Fiverr is working with the organization to create job opportunities for displaced Israelis. Fiverr and Monday each set up One Heart operations centers in their Tel Aviv offices to supplement 20 others across the country.
“We try to activate as many volunteers as possible and maintain the spirit of October 8, when Israelis immediately rallied together to help one another,” says Dror. “We believe that national resilience is measured by civil activism in rough times and that true leadership grows from bottom-up in times of crisis.”
Produced in association with ISRAEL21c
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