MILL VALLEY, Calif. - A 16-year-old from Marin County embarked on an unusual Thanksgiving break, flying all the way to Israel to help farmers struggling to tend to their fields amid the ongoing war between Hamas and the country.
The fields are located near the Gaza border, part of a key agricultural region in Israel, now struggling to find workers in the wake of the deadly attacks on area kibbutzes by Hamas.
"The urgency hit me at home, when I was like wow I need to go," said Aviv Shakked, who lives near Mill Valley. "No one is living there right now, the families have been displaced."
Aviv, whose father served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), said it took some convincing to get his parents to agree to the plan.
"My first reaction was, actually in my head, was bleep no," said Aviv's mother, Sharon Anolik Shakked.
But her son refused to back down, and his mother eventually gave in, realizing she’d raised him to make positive contributions to society and volunteer.
"And how can we be surprised when you want to do that," said Sharon.
Fast-forward to Thanksgiving, and Aviv found himself picking avocados, lemons and oranges near the Gaza border, a trip he planned all on his own.
"I wouldn’t say hard work, but it still feels meaningful," said Aviv.
He says Israelis working the fields alongside him were grateful for his work.
At times, Aviv said the work was a bit hair raising. The fields were within reach of Hamas missiles.
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"In the south in the fields you don’t get air raid sirens," said Aviv. "You get to hear the missile go over your head and then get to lie on the ground."
Aviv soon learned that several working on the field were survivors of the Hamas attacks on kibbutz Be’eri, who lost friends and family. Aviv recalled one of their stories.
"He was with his family, in his shelter, while there were Hamas terrorists in his house, while they were burning his house," said Aviv.
Aviv soon had the opportunity to see the aftermath with his own eyes.
"I couldn’t have imagined the strength of the devastation until I saw it," said Aviv. "This guy watched all of this happen to his community, that he’s grown up in, and he’s right back here working. The least I can do is help him work."
Now back at home, Aviv says he is determined to do more.
"It was just a very incredible experience, and still sad, and strengthened my reserve to want to help," said Aviv.
Aviv says he is considering joining the IDF, a path to citizenship in Israel, and perhaps attending college there.