Sar-El Volunteers Serve the Country

Photo: IDF (Zahal) Spokesperson
Date: 27/01/2009, 5:40 PM     Author: IDF (Zahal) Website

“My visit to Israel was, at first, an opportunity to see the country and spend time with my dad. Now it’s a lot more,” says Diane Minister, who is from Alaska, U.S. “A trip to Jerusalem and to holy places is very nice and exciting, but those are things that happened a long time ago. What happens here is the Israel of now.” Diane arrived in Israel last week together with her father, George Springer, to participate in the Sar-El project, which he read about in an article in an American newspaper. The two of them decided to join one of the volunteer delegations where they have the opportunity to help the IDF (Zahal) and the State of Israel. Sar-El, a unit that is affiliated with the Logistics Brigade, is responsible for the integration of volunteers from Israel and around the world into logistical activities on IDF (Zahal) bases. The volunteers are currently taking part in the organization of refurbishing the equipment used in the operation in the Gaza Strip.

Last Sunday (Jan. 18), a particularly large delegation of almost 200 volunteers from a variety of countries, about a quarter of them non-Jewish, arrived in Israel. Diane and George’s group, made up of 19 volunteers, spent its first week in Israel folding blankets in the IDF (Zahal) induction center. Around their necks the members of the group wear a souvenir of their visit to Israel: Dog tags with their names in Hebrew and the inscription “Sar-El 2009”, which the soldiers in the induction center prepared for them.

For some of the volunteers, this is not their first or even second visit to Israel. Bratt Gross, 79, from New York, has been to Israel as many as eight times. “My first visit was in 1998, the 50th anniversary of the State of Israel. This is my sixth time with Sar-El, and I came another two times to travel with my wife. I simply love this country.” Tracey Singletol is here for the first time. Tracey decided to temporarily swap her desirable job at Disneyland, where she works as a decor designer, for desert sand and an army uniform. Like the rest of the volunteers, she is curious to know everything about Israel from the meaning of the symbols and pins on the instructors’ uniform to the Israeli slang and the local food. The volunteers get extremely excited over things that to Israeli citizens seem completely natural – bumping into soldiers carrying guns at the gas station, the flak jackets and helmets that they find during their work in the warehouse, or the first encounter with Beasli (a spiral shaped Israeli snack).

After the week in the IDF (Zahal) Induction Center, the group came to the Timan Airfield base, where they helped with the restoring of the emergency storages following Operation Cast Lead. “We had been planning to come and volunteer for a long time, but we didn’t expect to be here at the end of the operation,” says Lewis Noal, who came to Sar-El with her husband Bruce directly from California. “We are happy to be here especially now, after the war. We wanted to help Israel, show the Israelis that the American Jewry is behind them. I’m happy that we are able to do this at this time.” The couple has been to Israel at least five times already, and their son also studied in Israel. Their current trip began two weeks ago and their original plan was to travel through Israel, especially in the Negev desert, for six weeks, to investigate the possibility of moving to Israel. Bruce, who takes an interest in ecological building, was impressed by the initiative to build “green houses” in the desert, and is interested in moving to one of these Israeli green houses in the future. After they had been in Israel for a week, the couple contacted the Sar-El unit and joined the group. After the volunteering period, the two of them will continue their trip in the Negev and also visit the Golan Heights. “I first visited Israel in 1973, just before the Yom Kippur War. We were seven young men and we wanted to build a factory in the Negev with the cooperation of the government. The government offered us three communities in the South and we chose Arad in the end, because of the clean air,” remembers Bruce. “But then after the war started, the plans changed – the government couldn’t grant us financial support anymore because of the high expenses of the war, and in addition to that some of the members of our group didn’t want to invest in Israel.”

And what happened to the dream of the factory?

“It’s not that I gave it up, I’m just too old for that now. If I was 20 years younger, I would try to build that factory. Now I want to move to Israel and study here. I feel that now the time has come for me to learn about my religion, about my culture.”