Since the start of the Swords of Iron War, hundreds of new olim from Russia and Ukraine have volunteered their efforts to assist the IDF and civilian Home Front.
Ilya Lipsker, COO of Shishi Shabbat Yisraeli (Israeli Weekend Experience) who’s at the forefront encouraging this initiative, shares, “Shortly after learning about the terrible massacre on October 7th and outbreak of war, we were flooded with offers and requests from olim who are active or even occasional participants in our activities. The request was always the same: To do their share to support the war effort.”
The Shishi Shabbat Yisraeli team was galvanized into immediate action, calling upon their people and concentrating volunteer efforts to achieve the best results.
On October 13, less than one week after the massacre of 1,200 Israelis and declaration of war, the first busloads of SSY volunteers departed the rendezvous point in Jerusalem and set out to several IDF bases in order to package field rations and sort medical equipment. The shifts were twelve hours long, and the volunteers worked eagerly and energetically, with several remaining to work double shifts.
“Some of our olim are recent arrivals to Israel, coming straight from the war zone in Ukraine,” says Linda Pardes-Friedburg, founder and CEO of SSY. “They come armed with tremendous motivation to help and contribute their efforts in order to make a real difference. The logistics officers were awed by what our team of volunteers managed to accomplish in several hours, and they realized that they’ve got access to incredible manpower that’s willing and eager to give of themselves to benefit the nation.”
Since that first weekend, SSY has been dispatching busloads of volunteers regularly to bases around Israel.
SSY’s volunteers set out in caravans of 2-3 busses, and to date over 1,500 volunteers have joined the initiative with some traveling out to anywhere between five and ten locations. SSY’s wartime projects are managed by 30 supervisors in cities and town around Israel who concentrate the volunteers and assign them to different projects based on location and capacity. Beyond volunteering their physical strength and heart to support the cause, olim have also donated vital equipment that is collected from 6 stations around Israel before being transferred directly to soldiers on the front or on base. Other equipment is delivered directly to evacuees from Israel’s south, many of whom haven’t been home in nearly two months, are out of job, and lacking the very basics.
Vika K. immigrated to Israel from her native Ukraine in October 2001. For the past six weeks, she’s devoted every weekend to assisting the war effort, packaging equipment and food for soldiers and evacuees, and also coordinating SSY olim volunteer efforts in the greater Haifa region.
“It’s heartwarming to see how many olim are eager to get involved and contribute their part to the cause. I’ve received offers from senior citizens, people in their sixties and seventies, who are enthusiastic about helping out! I’ve also recruited dozens of men in their thirties, forties and fifties who would happily join the IDF and fight for Israel, but were declined for various reasons. Instead, they come here and work long volunteer shifts, giving all they can to support our soldiers and Gaza border evacuees,” says Vika.
Incredibly, says Lidia Shtelmach, one of the very first SSY participants who today serves as the Haifa and National Shabbat Host Coordinator, Russian and Ukrainian olim are not only contributing their strengths and efforts to support the cause, but have also collectively donated over $45,000 to purchase vital equipment for Israeli soldiers. “Few olim from the FSU are wealthy,” she says, “and many struggle financially. Yet they still came out in droves, with each person contributing what he or she could in order to improve the situations of Israeli soldiers on the front and evacuees.”
Sophia Mindelin, who immigrated to Israel from Russia just six months ago, in May of 2023, expresses: “When war broke out, I felt an urgent need to do something, to contribute to the war effort. Already on Sunday, October 8th, I headed to the MDA blood bank to donate blood, but I still didn’t feel that it was enough. Someone recommended that I contact Shishi Shabbat Yisraeli, and they assigned me to call senior citizens at home, find out if they’re okay and if they need anything."
"Concurrently, I’m in touch with IDF officers in several bases who keep me apprised of the equipment they need and when in order to ensure that the help we’re sending is the help the army really needs. It’s only six months since I’ve made Israel my home, but I really feel that I’ve become an integral part of the nation and the nation has become a part of me, as well. I’m part of the Israeli story, and the fact that I’m a new immigrant doesn’t dull that sentiment at all. On the contrary, it strengthens it.”