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From Dead Sea to Sydney, volunteers step up to help homeless Israelis

Ittay Flescher
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From Eilat to Sydney, volunteers step up to help homeless Israelis

Published: 31 October 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

As Dead Sea hotels gain a new identity as evacuation centres, Australians are also helping Israelis from afar. ITTAY FLESCHER meets a volunteer helping evacuees in Israel and a charity chief in Sydney.

Since the start of the  war, more than  200,000 Israelis from the Gaza  and Lebanon borders have been evacuated from their homes to hotels, mainly in Eilat, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem.

Orit Angel, a multimedia artist and startup consultant from Jerusalem, has spent the past two weeks volunteering with evacuees from Sderot at the Dead Sea hotels. Speaking to The Jewish Independent, she said: “even though I need to take care of two elderly parents, as soon as I saw the call for volunteers at the hotels, I made arrangements and put everything in my life on hold so I could go down and help.”

After short training from the local councils in charge of the evacuation operation, volunteers undertook a range of tasks from operating a school in the hotel, organising trips for families, birthday parties for kids, setting up a laundry service, emotional counselling, providing clothing and toiletries and much more.

There are currently over 11,000 evacuees from the south in the Dead Sea hotels which are now operating at almost full capacity with all the tourists out of the country. Angel said some of the families from Sderot were initially quite excited to be put up in these hotels, being places they usually couldn’t afford to go on a holiday.

But within a few days, once they realised their stay there would be far longer than excepted, any sense of excitement turned to fear and trepidation about the future.

Being there for another person gives us strength to carry on for another day.

Orit Angel, volunteer in Eilat

Angel added that some families were so traumatised from what they saw on October 7, many of whom saw Hamas terrorists with guns standing outside their houses shooting people in the street, that they are now unable even to leave their hotel rooms. “They are crushed, people just break in these moments.”

Commenting on the many volunteers supporting the evacuees, Angel said, “this war has touched every Israeli citizen no matter where they live. We are all in this together. It affects everyone on so many levels. The volunteering empowers us, being there for another person in need gives us strength to carry on for another day.”

Volunteering for the needs of the evacuees is not just something that’s opening in Israel. On the other side of the ocean in Australia, Alethea Gold, who is the chairperson of the Israeli charity SmartAID in Australia, has also been spending full days supporting people in need.

Like CARE Australia or USAID, SmartAID usually operates in disaster zones all over the world enabling Israeli teams and money to support everyone from earthquake victims in Turkey to hospital patients in the Ukraine. Speaking from her home in Sydney to The Jewish Independent, Gold shared that this is the first time SmartAID has been running an aid operation in Israel.

Their team on the ground in Israel and been delivering urgently needed aid since the beginning of the war.  From small things like delivering phone charges so people could stay connected to greater needs such as food and clothing, SmartAID hopes to ease the pain of all those suffering in any way possible.

This week, SmartAID Australia, Worldwide Distribution Services and Anna Solomon from the local NSW community, came together to send $A1.5 million worth of urgent aid from Sydney. They were thrilled that some of the biggest designer names in Australian donated desperately needed winter clothes for the coming months, including Camilla and Marc, Blochs, Boody, Ksubi, Academy Brand, Cuddle Bundles and Thread Together. This shipment of 10 pallets is being flown free by DHL, directly to Israel. 

Smart-Classes provides free laptops, headphones and other equipment to enable students to continue learning remotely.

It is also running an initiative called Smart-Classes, which provides free laptops, headphones and other tech equipment to students to enable them to continue their school learning from remote locations during the war. This aids both the children’s education and helps their mental wellbeing by keeping them in touch with their friends.

The demand for these Smart-Classes is a high priority for municipalities, kibbutzim and cities, hosting the evacuees.

Speaking of her volunteering experience at this time, Gold shared that “I never thought I’d have to do something like this for Israel. Yet I’m so grateful to be in a situation where my organisation can help in a positive and grassroots manner. As a small NGO, we are very effective in getting aid quickly to the people who need it first, and that makes me proud.”

Therapists gave free sessions. Databases about hostages in Gaza took shape. The economy became familial, tribal.

Podcast host Noah Efron

Beyond these two examples of volunteering, there are thousands more.  As podcast host Noah Efron observed, since the massacre, “hundreds of thousands of people found hundreds of thousands of ways to help the hundreds of thousands of people we consider our own, people who lost people or lost their homes or both, in a display of ingenuity and generosity more vivid than any in my lifetime.

“There was a free ride-sharing app, a free homestay app, a free food-delivery app and a free baby-sitting apps, as if Uber, Airbnb, Doordash and Bambino just stopped charging. Massive warehouses filled with clothes, toys, books, dishes, furniture, anything anyone might want, all donated, all for free. Therapists gave free sessions. Databases of information about hostages in Gaza took shape. The economy became familial, tribal.”

At a time when many thought Israel was never more divided after the justice reform, in the past two weeks, Israel has never been more united, with the spirit of giving for the other at the heart of that unity.


Hechalutz: Support the home front and the kibbutzim surrounding Gaza


Part 1: Inside the Jerusalem Emergency Command Centre
(The Jewish Independent)
With Overflowing Hotels and Empty Beaches, Sunny Resort City Becomes Hub for Israelis Displaced by Gaza War
Some 65,000 evacuees from the Gaza border communities have arrived at Eilat, where volunteers are stepping up efforts to house, feed and aid the unprecedented influx

Photo: Photo: Evacuees from Kibbutz Nir Oz in the lobby of a hotel in Eilat on October 17, 2023. (Aris Messinis/AFP)

About the author

Ittay Flescher

Ittay Flescher is the Jerusalem Correspondent for The Jewish Independent. For over twenty years, he has worked as an educator, journalist, and peacebuilder in Melbourne and Jerusalem. He is the co-host of the podcast ‘From the Yarra River and the Mediterranean Sea' and the author of the upcoming book ‘The Holy and the Broken.’ He is also the Education Director at a youth movement that brings together Israeli and Palestinian teenagers who believe in building equality, justice, and peace for all.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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