One heart, 26,000 volunteers.
Israeli crisis intervention organization Lev Echad — Hebrew for “One Heart” — brings the two together.
Lev Echad has provided aid to Israeli communities since it was founded in 2006 after the Second Lebanon War. Volunteers help communities during national emergencies whether due to these military conflicts or natural disasters.
They also provide aid to the elderly and disabled, delivering food, water and medicine; operate bomb shelters and command centers; organize activities for children; and help restore communities.
As part of a cross-country tour to raise awareness for it and its joint organization Friends of Lev Echad, Hemi Banner, CEO of Lev Echad, will stop in Philadelphia this weekend — he will be at Tiferet Bet Israel in Blue Bell to raise awareness about his organization and discuss its work with volunteer aid for Israeli crises.
Banner said Lev Echad tries to prepare for any imminent crises, and he hopes that reaching out to people in the United States will offer partnership opportunities for communities not only here, but around the world.
“Many people want to help their neighbors, community, families and friends, but no one is guiding them on what to do and where to go and what will be meaningful,” he said.
The organization was instrumental not only in army operations like Operation Cast Lead in 2009, Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014, but also natural
disasters like the Mount Carmel forest fire in 2010 and the Jerusalem snowstorm in 2013.
It gives local authorities a chance to synchronize what is needed in the community and what is offered, all in one place.
As for the current attacks in Israel, Banner said Lev Echad is closely monitoring the situation, and “what’s going on now is something that we hope will calm down in the coming days. Life is still going on in Israel.”
Matt Zucker, a Worcester resident and TBI member who helped organize Banner’s trip, was so inspired by Lev Echad that he founded the spinoff organization Friends of Lev Echad, hoping to gain an American group of volunteers who would support Lev Echad.
He discovered the organization last summer during a mission trip to Israel. He met the organization’s social services director and a few of its young volunteers, and was mesmerized by the work they do.
“When there’s a time of crisis, everyone is supportive of Israel or quick to offer their support and contribute where they can,” Zucker said. “But the nature of what Lev Echad does is so much of their support needs to come in before there’s a time of crisis because they need to be ready for it.”
About 26,000 people have volunteered with Lev Echad over the years, bringing some order to the chaos. According to Zucker, though, the volunteers get easily overwhelmed because there aren’t enough full-time people in their department to handle all of the community’s needs.
A lot of the volunteers are high schoolers choosing to be a part of the solution rather than casting themselves as victims.
He added that they are so willing to go into harm’s way to help others in need. In the South, for example, they worked in bomb shelters — some converted into day care centers — and put smiles on kids’ faces to try to get their minds off of the danger.
“The selflessness of it was very moving,” Zucker said. “One of the things I love about it is it’s a nonpolitical organization. They help everybody as long as you’re an
Israeli in need. There’s no litmus test — you don’t have to be Jewish to help Palestinians, to help Christians. They empower people to help out rather than be victims.”
When Zucker came home, he felt “so blessed and fortunate to live here where you don’t have to worry about rockets falling on you.” Instead of just sharing
photos and stories from his trip, he wanted to “do something more lasting than just going on a mission trip” — he wanted to make an impact in the spirit of giving and volunteerism.
Other people on Zucker’s trip joined his cause to create Friends of Lev Echad, which officially became a 501c3 nonprofit last spring, in a way to support them financially and any other way they need. The board is made up of people from Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York, hence Banner’s connection to these cities on his tour.
“It really is our hope to grow Friends of Lev Echad big enough to get other people involved so that [Banner’s] next time here, it will be even more people we can go and meet with,” he said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
The Lev Echad volunteers are trained year-round, but it does not receive much government funding, which is where Friends of Lev Echad comes in.
“Just being there meant so much to the Israelis — if you love Israel, you want to help in any way you can — it’s rewarding to be able to contribute to Israeli society in a more concrete fashion.”
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