Volunteers Older than the State Come to Serve in the Army

April 26, 2012  

As the state of Israel celebrates its 64th Independence Day, volunteers older than the state itself continue to arrive and help out IDF soldiers.

Arutz Sheva recently met with a group of volunteers from the Sar-El organization as they arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport.

Sar-El was founded after the summer of 1982 when, in the midst of the Galilee War in Lebanon, Golan Heights communities faced the disastrous prospect of losing their entire agricultural crop. The majority of able-bodied residents had been called up for army reserve duty and entire farms, with crops already ripened, were left unattended due to manpower shortage.

Dr. Aharon Davidi, former head of the IDF Paratroopers and Infantry Corps, was directing at the time the Golan Heights community and cultural activities. Touched by the distress of the residents, he sent a number of friends as a recruitment team to the United States. Within a few weeks, some 650 volunteers arrived in Israel to lend their support through volunteer labor.

When the volunteers realized the merits of their actions, they expressed the wish that the volunteer project be perpetuated. As a result, Sar-El – The National Project for Volunteers for Israel – was founded in the spring of 1983 as a non-profit, non-political organization (“Sar-El” is the Hebrew acronym meaning “Service for Israel”).

Over the years, volunteers from other countries, both Jewish and non-Jewish, came to partake in the project, and to date, Sar-El is represented in some 30 countries worldwide.

Since its inception and up through the end of 2010, the volunteer project has brought in over 125,000 volunteers, of which 6 percent have since made aliyah. Sar-El has been awarded the Chairman of the Knesset Award.

Sar-El’s volunteers work in IDF warehouses, participate in guided tours of interesting locations in Israel and hear lectures on Jewish and Israeli topics, among other things.

“They’re not doing combat duty, although some of them would like to,” Pamela Lazarus, Sar-El’s program coordinator, told Arutz Sheva. “However, they’re working in warehouses, they’re working with equipment, they’re working with supplies, medical supplies, vehicles – all kinds of things that soldiers would have to do on the bases. Many times, they take the place of the reserve soldiers so the reservists don’t have to work as many weeks a year.”

According to Lazarus, the Sar-El experience “gives people more of a connection to Israel than any other way of helping Israel.” She said that this connection is often more of an incentive to make aliyah than anything else.

“It’s one thing to sit at home and write a check,” she said. “But when you’re here, actually working and seeing the people and knowing that you’re helping Israel, it’s the biggest thing you can do.”

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