Austin Resident Volunteers in Israel with Sachlav Program | Shalom Austin

Austin Resident Volunteers in Israel with Sachlav Program

The Jewish Outlook

Mar 1, 2024

Jason Steklof and other volunteers on a citrus farm in Israel. Courtesy: Jason Steklof

The war in Israel is affecting all aspects of Israeli life and there is a tremendous amount of help needed during these unprecedented times. One local Austinite who manages global product commercialization and sales engineering at , Jason Steklof, recently traveled to Israel with 20 like-minded individuals from all over the world through the Sachlav (Birthright Israel Onwards) program to volunteer, helping with agricultural and logistical work to support Israel and the war effort.

Shoes, clothes, and bags that were left behind at the Nova Festival in Israel on October 7. Courtesy:  Jason Steklof“From the day of the massacre on October 7, I was vigorously looking for volunteer opportunities,” said Steklof who heavily felt the reverberations of the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and the subsequent war. “I could not sit idly by any longer, feeling helpless posting pro-Israel content into an echo chamber on Instagram while our Jewish brothers and sisters risked their lives to protect the Jewish people and our homeland. I attended Israel rallies in Austin as well as traveled to Washington D.C. for the “March for Israel” back in November, but I felt that taking tangible action and going to Israel to help in any way I could, was quite honestly, the least I could do.”

Steklof and his group split their time volunteering between a citrus farm near Hadera which is 45 minutes north of Tel Aviv, and a logistics warehouse in Bet Shemesh just outside of Jerusalem. “The farming industry in Israel right now is incredibly desperate,” said Steklof. “Many workers have been called up to serve in the IDF and the laborers on the farm of which I volunteered (both Thai and Palestinian) are no longer in the country. These farms are now solely relying on volunteers to pick the fruit which is then juiced and sold throughout Israel. Without these volunteers, the fruit is left to rot on the trees.”

While volunteering, Steklof also met with both Amichai Chikli, the Minister of Diaspora Affairs in the Knesset (Israel Parliament), as well as Miriam Adelson, a Birthright donor, who both visited the farm to show their appreciation. “Warehouse logistics volunteering is also crucial,” said Steklof who also spent his time packaging boxes of food and sanitation items for both soldiers as well as the thousands of families that have been displaced from their homes on both the Gaza and Lebanese borders.

Steklof says he has been asked if he feels it is safe to travel to Israel right now. “With my perception of what life is currently like in Israel being solely shaped by the media, it was incredibly healing to see that although it is a very serious time, and every person is affected by the war, the people of Israel continue to thrive and enjoy life,” said Steklof. “During our trip, our home base was Tel Aviv, and though the streets were emptier than in previous trips, the Shuk, the cafes, the bars, and the clubs were all full of people carrying on with pride and resiliency. At no point did I feel unsafe.”

Steklof plans on traveling back to Israel in the spring to volunteer again for the Sar-El program. “I felt that Sar-El was one stone that I left unturned. Volunteering and supporting logistics directly on an IDF base feels like the most impactful task I can do at this point in my life.”

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