"I was going to bed [one night] and decided I wanted to come to Israel to help out and thought instead of just me coming, let me try to bring people," said Maury Kelman, who worked for three weeks with Israeli and American organizations to organize a grassroots solidarity mission.
Eighty professionals arrived from the US on Sunday afternoon and were joined by 30 others to volunteer across the country. Volunteers range in age from their 20s to their 70s, and come from varied religious backgrounds and professions.
"It's not the typical solidarity trip because other trips weren't focused on helping or working eight hours a day with soldiersâ€¦ the [other trips] are important but different."
Kelman, who works for a hedge fund, called friends, organizations and ministries to make the necessary arrangements. El Al airlines and the Prima Kings Hotel provided discounts, and the group subsidized costs for those who could not afford the trip, Kelman said.
The group brought some 50 duffel bags full of clothes, toys, toiletries and other necessities to give out to children, residents of suffering towns and soldiers.
Due to its size, the group has been split into thirds with each sub-group going to different areas to volunteer.
Although the group has no official name, its contributions have been concrete. Members have run a small day camp in Ma'aleh Adumim, will help paint bomb shelters and have helped package food on army bases for soldiers.
"I was talking to one of the commanders and asked what would happen if we didn't bring the group," said Eyal Feiler, a director of software for a pharmaceutical company. "He said we'd have soldiers doing the work. It made people feel like it was real work; they are filling a need and a task of what needs to get done. They take a lot of pride in making sure everything is done right because they know where it's going."
Both Kelman and Feiler said they have received nothing but praise for the group's efforts.
"It's very hard to describe," said Michelle Cass, who took five days off from her job as director of planning at Columbia Medical Center. "It's really been a privilege to come and do this. I am very happy I was able to."