Aviv Shakked picks avocados at Kibbutz Be'eri near Gaza, where the Mill Valley teen volunteered last month. (Photo/Courtesy Shakked)
Aviv Shakked picks avocados at Kibbutz Be'eri near Gaza, where the Mill Valley teen volunteered last month. (Photo/Courtesy Shakked)

Marin teen follows his heart, travels solo to Israel to volunteer on evacuated kibbutzim

On Oct. 8, as people around the world were reeling in shock just a day after the brutal Hamas attacks against Israel, 16-year-old Aviv Shakked told his parents that he wanted to go there and help out in some way.

It would be better than feeling powerless at home in Mill Valley, he told J.

Sharon Anolik Shakked, Aviv’s mother, is a lawyer. She said she’s never negotiated with anyone like her son.

“Of course, we were terrified about him going right now,” she said. “But we raised him to be proud of who he is and to want to make a difference in the world. So how can we be surprised when that’s what he wants to do?”

Aviv is a junior at Redwood High School in Larkspur and a graduate of Brandeis Marin, where his father, Israeli native Orr Shakked, served as president of the board. Aviv’s grandmother on his mom’s side is Israeli. He’s been to Israel many times and felt a strong pull, even though none of his family there was directly impacted.

“He continued asking to go every day,” Sharon Shakked said.

A budding photographer, his first thought was to try to bear witness and document what he saw. Then Orr Shakked started looking for more concrete ways his son could help, researching different volunteer opportunities online. His Hebrew helped expand the search.

Damage at Kibbutz Be'eri, where Bay Area teen Aviv Shakked is currently volunteering. (Photo/Courtesy Shakked)
Damage at Kibbutz Be’eri, the hardest-hit community near Gaza. (Photo/Aviv Shakked)

Once that part was done, Aviv got clearance to miss school as long as he made up his assignments, and he made plans to travel to Israel over the Thanksgiving holiday break.

Finally, on Nov. 16, he flew to Los Angeles and then took a direct El Al flight to Tel Aviv.

It had been relatively easy to find opportunities to work in the kibbutzim in the Gaza envelope, which suffered the worst of the Hamas attacks. With almost all of the residents evacuated, there’s been a steady call for volunteers to harvest produce from the fields. What wasn’t so easy was figuring out how Aviv would get to the southern location.

His grandparents would be picking him up from the airport, but it was up to him to plan the rest of the nine-day trip. His parents were adamant that the newly minted driver not get behind the wheel in Israel. When he boarded his flight, he still didn’t know exactly how he would travel or where he would stay.

Fortuitously, sitting next to him on his flight from Los Angeles was a federal prosecutor from Los Angeles who also had decided to go and volunteer. He didn’t have a solid plan either, but said he’d be happy to drive Aviv. They even ended up renting an Airbnb in Beersheva together.

Aviv spent the first two days with his grandparents near Netanya and went with them to join the last leg of a five-day march organized by the families of the hostages. “The posters of the hostages are everywhere,” he said. “Plus, I’ve never seen so many Israeli flags.” On the second day he worked in a food bank, sorting produce for delivery.

Early in his trip, Aviv Shakked joined a multi-day march organized by families of hostages. (Photo/Courtesy Shakked)
A multi-day march was organized by families of the hostages. (Photo/Aviv Shakked)

Finally, he and his seatmate drove to the south. They began by picking oranges and lettuce on Moshav Talmei Bilu. The next day, they picked avocados at Kibbutz Be’eri, which was one of the hardest-hit communities. They worked alongside other volunteers, as well as survivors of the massacre who are now living in hotels. One kibbutz member told Aviv he just wants to return home, and would live in the kibbutz dining room if he were allowed.

After one day of work, Aviv and his new friend were given a tour of the kibbutz. He saw things he’d never seen before: a playground riddled with bullet holes, decimated buildings with exposed rebar jutting out.

“Experiencing things firsthand can’t compare to writing, videos or movies,” he said. “Hearing directly from the person who experienced it had a different power for me. I was so impressed by the character of these people and their bravery.”

Aviv said that everyone he met, whether an Israeli volunteer or a kibbutz member, thanked him for coming to help Israel in its time of need.

“They were very surprised that I came to volunteer at my age,” he said. “Everyone I met thanked me, and said how meaningful it was to them, and that they’d tell their kids about the American boy they met who came to help them.”

On his last day, Nov. 25, the first group of hostages was released, which made the trip come full circle for him.

Aviv said he’s returned home feeling a sense of purpose.

“I know what influence I want to make,” he said. While his school has been pretty much silent about the war, he said, he hoped to share what he experienced on the school’s television program.

“This is not a war against the Palestinians,” he said. “This is a war against Hamas. I see a lot of young people supporting Palestine and denouncing Israel publicly, and I want to advocate for what I believe in. I’m definitely motivated right now.”



Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."