MOORE — Several teams of volunteers from Israel traveled halfway around the world to aid Oklahoma tornado victims in recent weeks.
Sunday afternoon, Yonit Levanon led a team of seven people representing IsraAid as they helped remove debris from the site of a home destroyed by the May 20 tornado in Moore. IsraAid is a humanitarian aid agency that was established in 2001 to respond to crises around the world. The group from Israel was joined by several members of the Oklahoma City metro Jewish faith community as they picked up tree limbs and swept dirt, broken glass and pieces of wood into a debris pile.
Levanon, 41, said she had been asked why the volunteers traveled so far to help when they could find people who need aid closer to home.
“We believe that we are one — altogether a global world,” Levanon said.
“When we need help, America comes to help us and when you need help, we come to help here.”
Levanon said IsraAid has a long-term project in Haiti, as well as service projects in Japan. She said IsraAid volunteers have provided assistance in other parts of America as well, including areas ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.
She said her group was the third IsraAid group to arrive in Oklahoma. The first group came just a few days after tornadoes pummeled parts of the state on May 19 and 20. She said IsraAid volunteers, working with Service International, joined disaster relief efforts in Newalla as well as Moore. Service International, a Missouri-based missions organization, helped connect the volunteers from Israel with homeowners who needed help and also provided the equipment for the projects.
Arik Sivan, 64, of Israel, said he has professional skills driving equipment such as tractors and skid-steer loaders and he thought he could help Oklahomans in the aftermath of the recent tornadoes. He said he took two weeks of vacation from his job to visit the storm-ravaged areas and offer his aid.
“I have good hands and it's good to help somebody,” he said. “I came here to help.”
Edie Roodman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, was part of the local Jewish faith community that participated in the Sunday cleanup effort at a Moore home site. She said it was wonderful to work alongside the volunteers from IsraAid.
“The partnerships between Oklahoma and Israel extend so much further than anyone can imagine,” Roodman said.
Debra Wolraich, a member of Emanuel Synagogue in Oklahoma City, said she and her husband, Mark, learned about IsraAid through Mark's cousin, Yoram Waxenbaum, of Israel. The Wolraichs worked side by side with Waxenbaum during the recent debris cleanup project in Moore.
“We're so impressed with this group from Israel coming,” Debra Wolraich said. “It means so much to the Oklahomans.”
Trey Perry, director of Service International, said his nonprofit organization has been working with Church of the Harvest in the metro area to coordinate local projects. He said more than 4,000 volunteers have worked through Service International-coordinated disaster relief projects in the Shawnee, Moore, Oklahoma City and Little Axe areas after the recent tornadoes.