Yulia Karra
March 10, Updated March 13

Four months ago, the life of US citizen Yocheved Ruttenberg was a complete 180 degrees away trom what it is today. 

“Before, I was very driven by wanting to make money, and now I am doing the complete opposite,” the Sword of Iron – Israel Volunteer Opportunities cofounder tells ISRAEL21c.  

Sword of Iron - Israel Volunteer Opportunities logo. Photo courtesy of the Sword of Iron - Israel Volunteer Opportunities Facebook group
Sword of Iron – Israel Volunteer Opportunities logo. Photo courtesy of the Sword of Iron – Israel Volunteer Opportunities Facebook group

From Texas to Tel Aviv

A recent marketing graduate, Ruttenberg was living in Dallas, Texas, working in construction sales. She was waiting for her brother, volunteering in the Israel Defense Forces, to finish his military service and join her, so the two could start a business together.

The deadly Hamas attacks derailed their plans. 

“On October 7, my brother was down south, hands-on in the fight,” she says, referring to the Israeli response to the Hamas onslaught that left over 1,200 people dead, more than 200 kidnapped and many more wounded.

“In the US, we didn’t know what was going on. I saw the situation only through Telegram [where Hamas uploaded the footage from the rampage]. I couldn’t contact my brother, I couldn’t sleep for days,” she recalls.

Ruttenberg, 23, bought a plane ticket to Israel and landed in the country a week later. During that week she was raising money to procure aid for the victims. 

“I raised $17,000 on social media and I came here with 23 bags [of items],” she says. 

Ruttenberg didn’t have any other relatives in Israel except her brother. For days she lived in his Tel Aviv apartment — which didn’t have electricity due to construction problems — before renting an Airbnb.

All this at the height of the war in Gaza, when Hamas terrorists were still launching barrages of rockets into southern and central Israel every day. 

Surprisingly, when I ask Ruttenberg about her life under rocket fire, she tells me that “it wasn’t that bad” compared to everything else that was happening.

A new beginning

A month into her stay in Israel, which was supposed to last only two weeks, Ruttenberg met creative marketing specialist Hagit Greenberg Amar.

Greenberg Amar, along with her husband Shai, were raising money and purchasing thermal drones for army units that were suffering shortages at the onset of the war. 

“My brother’s unit was getting a drone, and when he came to pick it up, they sat down for a coffee and he told Hagit: ‘You have to meet my sister, she’s doing similar things.’”

The day the two women met, they started a small Facebook group that was supposed to help centralize volunteering initiatives in Israel post-October 7. 

“They had the connections in Israel and I had the connections in the US,” explains Ruttenberg.

Additionally, Ruttenberg moved in with the couple and their three kids two days later. 

“I don’t know if I’m crazy for moving in or they’re crazy for moving me in, but I have an entire floor to myself,” she laughs. 

“When I met Shai and Hagit, I was supposed to go back to the US the following week, but I told myself I couldn’t go. I wouldn’t still be in Israel if it wasn’t for them.”

Word of mouth

As more and more people around the world started getting interested in helping Israel during the war, the Facebook page grew bigger and bigger. Sword of Iron – Israel Volunteer Opportunities now boasts over 12,000 members.

“That’s all word of mouth, no advertisement, nothing,” notes Ruttenberg. 

The group offers volunteer opportunities for people from anywhere and from any walk of life (“From CEOs to college students”).

“Everything in our group is affordable. If you need a place to stay, we have places for you to stay. If you only have a day or an afternoon off and you want to volunteer, we have those opportunities as well.”

Greenberg Amar adds that the group is a “bridge” between Israeli and American culture. 

“Now, big organizations like Masa Israel Journey and Taglit – Birthright Israel use our files to schedule volunteer opportunities for their interns and people they bring here.”

She adds that people are very limited in what they can do in major crises, and the group was meant to influence others to volunteer in any way possible. 

24/7

While Greenberg Amar has a day job in addition to the Facebook group, Ruttenberg has fully dedicated herself to the project. 

“It is more than a full-time job, it’s a 24/7 operation,” Ruttenberg says. 

She personally goes to volunteer locations that ask for help to make sure the efforts are legitimate. “It’s my product,” she adds.

Ruttenberg says the plan is to turn the Facebook group into a “long-term, sustainable organization.” 

She has even started the process of immigration to Israel in order to fully focus the project going forward. A project that Ruttenberg never thought she would be doing only a few months ago. 

What did her family think of her dropping everything and moving to Israel in the middle of the war? 

“My mom was one of the people who pushed me to come. She told me: ‘If you don’t go, you’re going to forever regret it,’” she says. 

“And my dad actually came to Israel and volunteered on a farm.” 

For more information, click here

How to volunteer in Israel during the war
HaShomer HaChadash volunteers helping at an Israeli farm. Photo courtesy of JNF-USA

With approximately half the Israeli population volunteering in some capacity since the start of the Swords of Iron war on October 7, you might think we have enough volunteers – but we truly don’t.


Labor is in short supply due to hundreds of thousands of Israelis called up for reserve duty, foreign workers leaving the country, and many people unable to get to their workplaces because of war-related childcare or safety issues.

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