One of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County’s long-standing partner agencies in Israel, Leket Israel, has been shining example of resiliency and innovation, as it responds to new demands created by the war. Leket supplies food, fresh produce and meals to Israelis suffering from food insecurity. Since the initiation of the war and Hamas’ invasion on Oct. 7, Leket’s operational model has been retooled to meet emerging wartime needs. Federation is proud to support Leket through our Israel Emergency Fund and Annual Campaign. Please continue to give and assist our agencies in Israel, as they do this incredible work.

Below is a report from Leket Israel CEO Gidi Kroch, which describes how the agency is transforming in this crisis:

Once again, we’ve had to turn on a dime and change our business model overnight. Instead of focusing on ending 2023 by exceeding our goal for the year, we’ve now had to start purchasing food, to meet the needs of the displaced residents of northern and southern Israel.

75% of produce in Israel comes from farms located in the region being hit hardest by the war. Trampled by heavy equipment, soiled by grease and oil. It will take at least a year for the land to recover. Moreover, all the settlements in the Western Negev have become a military zone. Access to these areas is prohibited, leaving the farmers with anguish over their ripe produce being destroyed, yet hopeful that this war will finally eliminate the day-to-day threat that they live with.

On October 6th, there were 25,000 Thai agriculture workers in Israel. 23 are being held hostage in Gaza, 21 were savagely murdered and the rest fled to the center of the country; and from there, by order of their King, they were airlifted home. Altogether, around 3,000 Thai workers remain in Israel. Additionally, restrictions were put on border crossing from the West Bank into Israel and no Palestinian workers are allowed into Israel. This left the farmers, from all over Israel, in despair. No one to pick and crops rotting on the stems.

Over the past month, Leket Israel has mobilized volunteers to support the farmers. In contrast to our usual operations, this time, we are sending the volunteers to harvest the crops for the farmers to sell. If the farmer wants, we will also purchase his produce from him. Leket has taken on this project of coordinating volunteers, transporting them to the fields, supplying security and training where required.

We have developed several significant partnerships over the course of the past month. We are partnering with the Ministry of Education to send students from grades 9-12 to volunteer with Leket, and the Ministry of Agriculture to purchase produce and receive financial relief specifically for this program. We are collaborating with many volunteer organizations who are providing the volunteers who we then send to the fields.

Another important program is with Bank Leumi, Keshet and the National Union of Israeli Students. Through this project, 1,000 university students, who have committed to 160 hours of agriculture work at farms, will receive a full year’s scholarship.

In just three weeks, we were able to support 500 farmers all over Israel, by sending more than 6,500 volunteers. In addition, we have begun employing Eritrean refugees, small scale now, but hoping to grow this program, to working on a more consistent basis with these same farmers.

Our goal is to continue providing this volunteer support as much as possible. I am concerned that the exuberance will die down eventually, as it is arduous work and cannot be maintained at the same level as professional workers. This is why it is important for us to develop paid positions as well, and hope that foreign workers will start returning to the country.

Leket Israel is working on a number of other initiatives to help the citizens of Israel. To date, we have provided 200,000 purchased meals, 20,000 boxes of dry and packaged goods, 3,000 tons of fresh produce, more than half purchased, 2,500 credit cards charged with varying sums, 500 tons of dry goods in bulk and many smaller programs. We are currently working with youth boarding houses, which have been converted into temporary shelters for families from the North and South. We are also in contact with those students who have been sent home, to ensure that they are being taken care of without the food provisions usually received at school.

There is a lot to do, and the list is only growing. Your tremendous support has been essential to the work we’ve done so far, and we are hoping it will continue when needed.

Thank you for all that you do on behalf of all Israelis.

Photo credits: Amir Yakoby and Leket Israel