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  • Janis Raisen

From Praying to Pitching In: Rabbi Inspires Volunteers to Join the War Effort

In the aftermath of October 7, the Tel Aviv International Synagogue in Tel Aviv (TAIS) sprung into action to help with what was needed most.

Rabbi Ariel and Cheryl Konstantyn volunteering on a farm. (Photo: Courtesy, TAIS)

 

Rabbi Ariel Konstantyn, a prominent rabbi in Tel Aviv, is the founder of the vibrant and cohesive Tel Aviv International Synagogue, located in the Beit El Synagogue building on Frishman Street.


The congregation includes a mix of native Israelis, tourists and olim (Israeli immigrants). Known for its high-energy Shabbat and holiday services, as well as cultural events, they have a loyal and enthusiastic following that continue to flock to the synagogue and fill up the pews. Since its founding in 2009, the congregation has attracted people from over 30 countries.


October 7, 2023

The October 7 massacre shocked the nation, leaving people scrambling to find ways to help. Rabbi Konstantyn began enlisting volunteers for a variety of work starting with the most urgent and heart-wrenching need, digging graves.

“When the war broke out, we were all just trying to to figure out what to do. We were overwhelmed with what happened so we said, 'What can we do? How can we participate?' We’re not soldiers, but something’s gotta be done. It started with us digging graves for fallen solders. They didn’t have enough workers, They didn’t even have enough tools. We got tools donated — shovels — in order to prepare the graves necessary for the number of soldiers that were dying, which was a huge mitzvah and overwhelming experience," explains Rabbi Konstantyn.

Their volunteer outreach has included hosting free Shabbat dinners for evacuees, organizing and transporting groups to volunteer on farms, preparing BBQs for soldiers on the Gaza border, baking challah for the soldiers, and much more.


Farming

TAIS volunteers pulling weeds from strawberry fields, Winter 2023, Sharon Region.

 

Local and foreign volunteers have joined the synagogue's many volunteer initiatives, with farming considered to be a popular one. The synagogue has been organizing weekly farming volunteer days to either south or central Israel, with buses leaving from their Frishman St.location. There is a nominal 10 NIS fee that was added to help cover their volunteer initiatives.

TAIS volunteers pulling weeds from strawberry fields, Winter 2023, Sharon Region. (Photo: © Israel Sites and Sights / © Janis Raisen)

 

BBQs for Soldiers

Since the start of the war, citizens from across the country have been heading to the border to show appreciation for the soldiers by preparing massive BBQs to raise morale and show support. The TAIS has organized a few BBQ evenings for the soldiers, helping to put smiles on their faces and tasty food in their stomachs.

Preparing the BBQ (Photo: Courtesy, TAIS Volunteer)

 

Tzitzit for Soldiers

Soldiers have been requesting new tzitzit to keep them safe, but assembling the shirts requires tying the strings in a series of complicated knots that follow strict guidelines. This intricate task requires the help of volunteers in order to keep up with the demand. With such a devastating war taking place, even secular Jews have been requesting tzitzit for protection.

“They’re wanting it. They’re asking for it. They felt a sense of protection — this extra mitzvah — this layer of protection. There’s been just a high demand among secular soldiers as well to have the tzitzit and wear it as part of their uniform," explains Rabbi Konstantyn.

Volunteers tying tzitzit at the TAIS. (Photo: © Israel Sites and Sights / © Janis Raisen)

 

Out of the thousands of volunteers that have flown to Israel from around the world, hundreds of them have included TAIS in their volunteer rounds. Tara Selby, from London, England, did exactly that. She flew to Israel to help in a variety of volunteer roles from farming, to packing supplies for soldiers and evacuees, to spending time at Hostages Square, and also joined the TAIS's evening of tzitzit tying. She, like all foreign volunteers, felt an urgency to come to Israel in the aftermath of October 7.

"Just to do something to help. I don't live here. It's the least I could do. The Israelis are putting their lives on the line, and I am fortunate enough to be able to come. It's amazing but it's sad. It's sad that I have to do it, but there's so much volunteering going on, it's amazing," Selby explains.

TAIS Volunteer Community

The synagogue has a WhatsApp group to access events and volunteer opportunities with ease, as well as a Facebook page and website that are updated regularly. Farming and other volunteer opportunities are still ongoing at the time of publication.


As the war rages on, volunteering continues to be an integral part of life in Israel.

“It feels good, it feels fulfilling. Everyone’s contributing what they can, whether it’s money, whether it’s time, whether it’s skill. Everyone’s doing something, and it’s the most powerful thing that everyone’s coming together and doing and giving, each in their own way. It’s a privilege to be part of it," says Rabbi Konstantyn.

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