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My Week with the Israel Defense Forces

Sar-EL volunteer group

Sar-EL volunteer group

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The base has tanks, weapons, ammunition to supply a whole battalion.

9:30 pm – We were exhausted, and so retired for the night. There is a beautiful shul on base, well-stocked with Siddurim, chumashim, talliyot, sefarim and 3 sifrei Torah, but we had no Minyan for Mincha or Ma’ariv.

Monday, May 7.

No minyan in Shul so we davened by ourselves. There were 3 soldiers in there also davening by themselves. When we finished, others began straggling in but we had to leave.

7:30am – breakfast. Omelets, salads, vegetables, cold chocolate milk and chocolate pudding (No coffee).

8:30 – Flag raising ceremony. All soldiers on base lined up in formation, including us. One of us is picked for the honor of raising the flag and stands next to the officer in charge. Believe it or not- I was picked. Some said to our Madricha- “let the Rav do it – it is Kavod HaTorah.” After saluting the Israeli flag, the officer in charge read the news of the day from Galei Tzahal, but our Madricha repeated it to us in English.

Next – work assignments given out. I and one female volunteer (Ruthie), assigned to kitchen. We first had to go to the infirmary to have our hands checked for disease and then given rubber gloves. We worked on making Schnitzels for lunch. We prepared about one thousand pieces – they were delicious but greasy. After I ate I volunteered for dishing out the food at the serving station, giving out the schnitzels – one piece per soldier. If they wanted more they could come back on line with clean plate, but initially, only one piece at a time. Of course I didn’t have the heart to refuse anyone who asked for another piece the first time in line.

After lunch, we heard there was a minyan for mincha. Sure enough there was a large minyan. Since none of us heard Kriat HaTorah in the morning I suggested that we could lain now, and we did, like on a ta’anit Tzibbur. I was the Shaliach Tzibbur and was given the third aliyah. I found out that every day they have a minyan for mincha.

After mincha, I returned to the dining room to clean chairs and tables. It was fun and I enjoyed it. I got to meet the chef and kitchen staff. Upon hearing that I was a Rav, one of them kissed my hand and requested a Beracha. After that, whenever I entered kitchen (which was off-limits to others) I was treated royally and with respect. The Kashrut of the kitchen was extremely well observed and enforced. Everything fleishig was colored red, and milchig blue, Parveh was yellow. It was so different from my experiences in hotel kitchens. The Mashgiach had to watch every worker carefully, but here, it’s not so much a religious issue but a strict army command and regulation. Any soldier who is not careful with the dishes could be severely punished and fined for breaking army discipline.

3:00pm – Kitchen closed so we were off. I took a shower before others arrived (they all worked till 4pm), and relaxed in air conditioned room.

Night Activity – We learned what the different colored Berets represented, what the colored shoulder laces meant and the different insignia for each rank in the armed forces. We were then given, very ceremoniously, our blue shoulder ribbons representing the Sar-EL unit (which we were given to keep, while our uniforms had to be returned at the end)

Tuesday May 8

Assignments were rotated each day.

I was assigned to a warehouse. We were shown an office fully cluttered with folders, boxes, papers and junk. Two of us began going through each piece. We emptied the boxes, and used them for storing clean folders. Folders that had written material were placed in other box for shredding. (the shredding process was done mainly by the women). We got rid of all the junk, swept the room clean and the officer in charge was amazed at the sight of this office. He couldn’t believe that it could look so neat and clean. He personally shook our hand and thanked us.

Night Activity – We learned about “Search and Recover” missions. If a plane goes down and the “black box” needs to be found, they form a straight line, walk shoulder to shoulder over the entire area until found. We practiced that. We were to cover a section of the field, at night in the dark, with no flashlights, and look for a 12 inch rod. Walking in straight line, shoulder to shoulder- sure enough we succeeded (by the way –the black box of a plane is orange and not black!).

That night, the highest ranking officer of the base came to address us. He told us that on May 20 – just 12 days away – the base would be fully inspected by the top army brass. If found unsatisfactory- many heads would roll. If they are given a good rating, many officers would be up for promotion. Therefore, our work here is vitally important and he thanked us for what we have accomplished.

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Sar-EL volunteer group

Sar-EL, the National Project for Volunteers for Israel, stations volunteers on IDF bases across the country. We work in army uniforms and perform non-combat support duties, working alongside regular soldiers, helping Israel shoulder its defensive burdens.

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