This Tu Bishvat, One Israeli Farmer Celebrates JDC Volunteers

At the start of the Israel-Hamas war, Gilad Yamin faced a serious crisis — but everything changed with the help of JDC volunteers.

By Gilad Yamin - Farmer; Hatzav, Israel | January 18, 2024

Gilad Yamin (left) sorts broccoli with the help of a JDC volunteer — one of more than 110,000 who have dedicated their time and energy to more than 800 farms across Israel.

Gilad Yamin is a third-generation farmer in Hatzav, an Israeli moshav not far from the Gaza Strip. When the Israel-Hamas war began in October 2023, Yamin’s business almost failed. But JDC helped him avoid that fate, sending daily agricultural volunteers to help fill a massive wartime labor shortage.

This Tu Bishvat, as we celebrate the holiday and its themes of cultivation, renewal, and new life, we bring you this reflection from Yamin, in which he speaks about his unbreakable connection to the land, and how JDC — in partnership with HaShomer HaChadash — has helped sustain his farm and so many others across Israel through these turbulent times.

Running a farm is a round-the-clock job for Yamin (left).

I was born to the soil — the heavy, black soil, the earth that generates the produce we harvest and eat: cauliflower, broccoli, squash, and fennel. Here in Hatzav, my moshav located near Ashdod and Gedera, just 45 minutes from the Gaza Strip, my home is this soil.  

In normal times, we weren’t too affected by such close proximity to Gaza. But these are far from normal times. 

During the first days of the war, air raid sirens sounded nonstop. Many of my workers left — laborers who had come here from Thailand. The sirens stressed them out. It terrified their families. Farming is a hard enough profession in times of peace, and in times of war, it’s nearly impossible. 

Picture a tomato. Where does that tomato come from? In Israel, it’s likely imported. For years, we imported and imported and imported so many of our vegetables. We’ve proudly helped change that story, but even still, wartime disrupts supply chains — as do pandemics, like we saw with COVID-19. These crises cut people off from staple foods, which can mean limited access to tomatoes and other essentials.

In times like these, you have to be self-reliant. It’s crucial that we learn to produce our own food, whether that’s fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, or milk. When there’s peace, we forget that our food systems are fragile. My farm feeds tens of thousands of Israelis. In wartime, there’s even more pressure to produce. That’s why we need workers more than ever. 

My father never wanted me to be a farmer, and when I consider the challenges farmers can face, his stance makes sense. “Listen, Gilad” he told me. “It’s hard work. Forget it. Go find a desk job —  in tech, or something like that.” I tried office work for a year. Only for a year. I had an itch I couldn’t scratch. It couldn’t be helped: I had to return to the soil. I have to be here, even now.

I’m a moshavnik and I’m a farmer — it’s in my hands and in my head and you can’t pull it out of me. Sunday to Sunday, I work hard. I don’t get breaks, but things break all the time. Things have to be taken care of — as farmers, we tend to living things. You can’t step away and say, “I closed the store. I’m going home.” There’s no 5 p.m. sign-off. All the time, you have to be in motion. Everything must run like the ticking of a clock — seamlessly, ceaselessly. 

If the clock breaks, you won’t survive as a farmer. Nonetheless, I’m all-in: I’m just crazy about this work I feel so lucky to get to do.

But when the workers started leaving, my business nearly collapsed. We had about 30 workers before the war. Half of them left. That’s significant manpower. Every evening, I tried to prepare for what would happen the next morning. Would even more people leave? I was walking in the dark without a light, feeling my way around. It was scary. 

Then, the JDC volunteers arrived. People of all ages came to my farm — children under 10 to people over 80, and all ready to help. Make no mistake, I had something for each and every one of them to do. I still do. There’s no shortage of jobs to do on a working farm. And these days, I am quite confident that I wouldn’t have a livelihood without them. They help cover the cauliflower so it doesn’t turn yellow (which renders it unmarketable). They pull the weeds that choke the crops.

I’m a moshavnik and I’m a farmer — it’s in my hands and in my head and you can’t pull it out of me.

They give of themselves a million percent. Some of the adults come here in the morning and work until late into the afternoon, completely of their own accord. What’s happening here is profound — but it’s just one small piece of JDC’s efforts: Since the war began, more than 110,000 volunteers have given their time, their energy, and their love to more than 800 farms across Israel.

Day after day, the people come. I don’t know what I’d do without them. But for them, I don’t think it’s work, exactly. They want to contribute, to be here together, cultivating something so much more essential than food. I don’t know what tomorrow morning will bring, not on Tu Bishvat and not on any other day — this is Israel, and the war continues, after all. Still, I do know that JDC allows me to keep on living today.

Gilad Yamin is a farmer from Hatzav, a moshav in central Israel.

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