Meet Wartime Volunt-Hero Roni Rabinovich: “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be”

מתנדב רוני רבינוביץ עם איש עם מגבלויות Volunteer Roni Rabinovich with man with disabilities

When conflict in southern Israel threatens to harm the residents of ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran, Roni Rabinovich comes running. For more than 14 years, the 67 year-old super volunteer has become an indispensable member of the village’s emergency caretaking team, dropping everything at the first sign of trouble to ensure the safety of his beloved ADI family.

A native of Pardes Hanna in Israel’s Haifa District, Roni has lived in South Merrick, New York, with his wife, Einat, and their beautiful family – including two children and four grandchildren – for nearly four decades. Though they have always maintained strong connections with family and friends in Israel and visit regularly, Roni felt a different kind of pull towards the Jewish homeland when a rash of indiscriminate rocket fire into Israel launched the Gaza War towards the end of 2008. By the time the IDF had officially begun Operation Cast Lead, Roni was already on a plane to Israel.

“I knew that I needed to do something, and I heard that farmers near Gaza needed help milking cows. I asked a friend in southern Israel to connect me with one of these dairy farms, but he couldn’t find a placement for me there. He told me that assistance was needed at ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran, a turn of events that would change my life,” remembers Roni. “From the minute I walked through the village’s gates, I was in love.”

Having raised a child with special needs, Roni immediately appreciated what the rehabilitation village represented for the residents and their families, and he made a commitment to return whenever he was needed most. Roni came back to the village in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge, and again last month, just a few days after the horrific events of October 7.

“It’s always the same feeling: I know that I need to pack and go. It’s just like being a reservist in the IDF, but I am too old for that, so comforting the residents and supporting the professional staff at ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran has become my national service.”

Though many view Roni’s actions as heroic, he is quick to discount such praise and highlights the sacrifices of the caregivers, who he believes to be the real heroes.

“In the middle of a war, these incredible people put everything on hold to take care of the ADI residents. They risk their lives and leave their own families behind to take care of the most vulnerable members of society, because they know that if they don’t, no one else will. To me, that is the very definition of heroism,” asserts Roni.

“I keep coming back to support the staff, to give them the strength they need to do this crucial work. I want to make sure they know that they aren’t alone, that others see them and care enough to support their efforts.”

Roni also notes that the village’s “mosaic” of staff and volunteers gives him hope for the future, even during a war punctuated by senseless hatred. Day after day, ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran’s diverse team of professional staff and volunteers – Jews, Christians, Arabs, Bedouins and Druze from across Israel – check their backgrounds, baggage, and religious and political views at the door to work together to help the residents reach their fullest potentials.

“Everyone outside the village is fighting each other, yet here they are one unit. ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran shows us what’s possible if we focus on what makes us the same, rather than what makes us different.”

“As a parent of a child with special needs, I appreciate what the residents receive here, and I know that they wouldn’t get this kind of care anywhere else in the world. As a human, this place renews my faith in humanity and recharges my soul. I love being here in the village. There is nowhere else I’d rather be, no matter the circumstances.”

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