With scores killed and more than one million affected by the catastrophic flooding and landslides, the Israeli delegation responded to a plea from the Serbian government for assistance.
Lev Echad – which means One Heart and is an Emergency Civilian Aid Organization, and students from Shalem College, Israel's first college of liberal arts, landed in Serbia last Thursday to assist the Serbian government in the mapping of needs and management of Serbian and international volunteers.
Led in part by Alon Tuval, a volunteer with Lev Echad and a student at Shalem College, an Israeli advance team prepared the groundwork for the arrival of the full delegation earlier this week.
Tuval, like all Shalem students, is required to dedicate one day a week to community service. Lev Echad is his project.
According to Eli Weissbart, chairman of Lev Echad, the work in Serbia represents the goals of the organization: “We believe that mutual responsibility is the first line of defense of society — the reinforcement of weak populations is critical to building the resilience needed to overcome every crisis. We are proud to represent Israel in this mission to help the courageous Serbian people and I believe that the invaluable knowledge and experience that we will gain from this effort will enable us to help other communities in distress around the world."
For Shalem’s leadership and supporters, who ensured funding for the delegation, the mission to Serbia reflects the core values of the college. “Our program is designed to create the next generation of Israeli leaders,” says Dr. Stephen Hazan Arnoff, Director of Culture, Community and Society at Shalem College. “They go deeper into Western, Jewish and Islamic civilizations than at any undergraduate program in the country. At the same time they are asked to apply their intellect, talents and passions into making positive change in Israel and the world right now.”
Welcomed in Serbia by government officials, the Israeli delegation immediately began working with the Serbian Student Union and the Red Cross to establish emergency centers to train and guide the volunteers.
In addition, the delegation is providing specialized training for local volunteers to maximize solutions to the distress in the field and to significantly strengthen civilians so they can cope with the emergency situation that is expected to continue for the next several months.
Israel, at the forefront of aid to Haiti, Turkey and other countries facing natural disasters, and whose medical professionals are treating Syrian civilian victims of violence, can now add the Shalem College volunteer students to its honor roster.