To all of my friends and relatives who sent me their good wishes upon hearing that I volunteered for a one week tour of the army, I am now sending a little summary of what this was all about.
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.
I was introduced to the program through an email from Nefesh B’Nefesh. It’s geared to new olim of all ages to have the opportunity to assist the IDF and give something back to them for all that they do for us. It sounded very exciting to me so after discussing it with Libby (after all, I’ll be away for almost a week) and receiving her support, I immediately signed up for a week, starting Sunday May 6th.
First, I had to send in a completed medical report from my doctor confirming that I was physically and mentally fit to do the necessary work, together with my ID for the army to check out in advance. B’H- no problems there.
Sunday morning, May 6th I headed for Ben Gurion airport where I was to meet the entire group for that week. There were about 100 volunteers gathered. After presenting our papers we were assigned to specific army bases in groups varying between 12-20 in any given group. I, together with 16 others, was assigned to a base in the Negev, somewhere near Be’er Sheva. We were asked not to disclose the exact location or the name of the base. 17 of us, 11 men and 6 women boarded a bus taking us to our base. Also with us was one regular soldier (Sharon), who was to be our Madricha for the entire week. She was 19 years old while we ranged from age 40 to 86. She spoke English (somewhat) and was trained by the army to lead groups of Sar-EL such as ours.
We got to the base around 1pm and after room assignments we went to the dining room for a sumptuous fleishige lunch. After lunch we were ushered to uniform supplies. Without a tape measure the soldier in charge just looked at each of us and said “this is a perfect size for you,” and handed us our army pants, shirt (with TZAHAL insignia) and belt. Believe it or not – mine fit. Others, who were very tall and broad, could not fit into the given shirts- but the army ran out of larger sizes. So they were just given t-shirts.
We were then given 30 minutes to unpack and straighten our beds. The men’s barracks had 3 to a room; the women had 2 to a room.
Lo and behold, to our surprise the rooms were air-conditioned, and the next building which had the bathroom and showers had 4 toilets (3 in working condition) and 3 shower stalls with hot running water. For those volunteers who have done this several times this was a very pleasant surprise – because in previous bases they did not have such luxury.
3;30 – We were marched to work stations- huge warehouses and asked to remove filled duffle bags from the bins, dust the bags and shelves, and restore them in the exact location from where they were removed. We worked for 1 hour.
4:30 – Back to our rooms for shower and relaxation.
6:30 pm – Dinner. Not as fulfilling as lunch, they served (always buffet-style) lots of salads, vegetables, and something that looked like green omelets. Nothing hot to drink but plenty of ice-water on tables.
7:30 pm – Evening activity. Our group met in one large room to get to know each other. Each spoke about himself/herself, and why they enlisted for a week.
It turned out that: we had a husband and wife team, a mother and daughter team, 3 of us came from Israel and all others from chu’l; one from Italy, one from Ireland, 3 from England, and the rest from USA. 3 were not even Jewish, and only 3 of us were Shomrei Shabbat. I was amazed to hear their motives for coming. They had to leave their family, jobs, and pay full flight to get here. They were not wealthy but they put together a year of savings in order to come. Their motive? They loved Israel, and the Jewish people. Most of them had done this before and for one it was the 10th time. It gave me goose-pimples hearing them describe their love and devotion to Israel. It also gave me chizuk and inspiration.
We were informed that this army base is the largest supply base for the entire southern region, including Aza. If war were to break out in Aza the Givati and other infantry units would be sent here to pick up their guns, ammunition and supplies. It is considered a very important base and is therefore protected by the Iron Dome Missile system.