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Sar-El at 40: War with Hamas sees spike in IDF volunteer requests
The Jerusalem Post ^ | 10/21/2023 | LIANE GRUNBERG WAKABAYASHI  

Posted on 11/30/2023 7:55:17 PM PST by Uncle Miltie

Sar-El has worked with more than a quarter of a million civilian volunteers in its 40 years, from both outside and from within Israel, Jewish and non-Jewish, young and old.    

In the past horrendous week, Sar-El CEO Keren Dahan has seen an uptick in civilian requests to volunteer for the IDF, the likes of which are unprecedented. Sar-El is an organization that offers logistical support to the IDF by a cadre of volunteers from around the world. 

“The war changed everything. We have a huge number of requests coming in,” Dahan told the Magazine. “If the logistics aren’t ready, then nothing can work in the IDF,” she explained in a phone From hundreds of volunteers per week, Sar-El is now recruiting volunteers in the thousands, making it especially easy for new olim and tourists already in Israel to sign up and start volunteering immediately. They come for as short as a day or as long as three weeks, taking care of logistical needs that reserves would otherwise be required to cover.

“We send volunteers into the IDF bases to prepare medical kits, food rations for combat units, and put together all the equipment soldiers need to have on them,” she explained. 

A Hebrew acronym for “service to Israel,” Sar-El was the brainchild of Aharon Davidi, a legendary warrior and company commander, founder of Israel’s Paratrooper Brigade, who was awarded the Medal of Courage, the country’s second-highest citation for bravery.

Davidi had long left military service when quick thinking at the start of the Lebanon War in 1982 led the former army general to do what generals presumably do best – mobilize vast numbers and think outside the box. In his civilian role as director of community and cultural activities of the Golan and Jordan Valley, Davidi took action on the severe threat to the livelihood of farmers in his jurisdiction who had gone to fight in the Lebanon War. 

“Davidi came up with the idea of recruiting 650 volunteers from the US to substitute for the Golan farmers,” Dahan explained. “Never mind that they had no background in agriculture. They succeeded in saving the crops and more. They supported the IDF with logistics on the northern border.” 

After the war ended, the farming volunteers went home but wanted to return in whatever support capacities that they might be needed. That is how the Sar-El nonprofit organization was born.

“It’s like a very good marriage,” Dahan said. “Both sides are doing their part to make a good balance. The army recruits soldiers. Sar-El recruits civilians.” 

Sar-El has worked with more than a quarter of a million civilian volunteers in its 40 years, from both outside and from within Israel, Jewish and non-Jewish, young and old.

“Before the [current] war, Sar-El recruited 4,000 to 5,000 volunteers per year. Since the war began, I can tell you that we have between 300 and 400 volunteers every day,” said Dahan. 

She noted that the IDF will be in need of even more volunteers after the war ends. “We’ll need to inspect, fix, and put things in order before they go back into the warehouse.”

For volunteers from overseas, the first step is to register on the Sar-El website and follow an application process. Volunteers from Israel can simply send Sar-El an email, and then they will be connected to the WhatsApp group of volunteers closest to where they are located. 

“We want people to help, to come as volunteers and have a deeply meaningful experience in Israel. But we also appreciate donations to help us continue our work,” Dahan said, explaining that 20% of funding comes through the Defense Ministry, and the rest “we work very hard to raise.”

A joint project of the IDF and Sar-El 

Gaya Strauss, a former combat medic and now a madricha, a leader, in charge of the daily activities of Sar-El volunteers at the Tel Hashomer base, outside Tel Aviv, doesn’t want the volunteers to only put in their long day of work. She wants them to understand how the army itself works. 

“The volunteers come to work, but I want them to understand how important and valuable their work is. It’s of prime importance to connect them to the soldiers and to the culture of the unit. I talk about basic training, the combat medics’ course, the commanders’ course, and how soldiers in the army develop and grow. When we see the volunteers are coming back as alumni, we see we’re doing a good thing.

“Sar-El has their part and the IDF has theirs in this joint collaboration. There’s one thing I say to everyone: ‘If there’s not enough work, the volunteers will be very disappointed,’” said Strauss.

Why Nelly returns time and again

Some volunteers’ stories are heart-wrenching, such as Nelly’s, the mother of a lone soldier who was seriously wounded in Operation Protective Edge. Volunteering is her way of supporting and personally giving back to the IDF. 

“In 2013, my son came from France to Israel and went straight to the IDF. He wanted to join the Golani combat unit, so we had to sign [give our permission] in France that despite his being our only child, we would allow him. I was shaking as I signed, but it was my son’s wish. He was already 21 when he joined.” 

On July 19, 2014, when Operation Protective Edge was taking place in Gaza, Nelly had a bad feeling. 

“At 10:30 p.m., the phone rang, and I was asked if I was the mother. My husband and I were told that our son had been very seriously wounded. The embassy immediately sent a car to take us to the airport, to Israel, and to the hospital. When my son had entered a house in Gaza, it had exploded on him. A doctor in the reserves had performed a tracheotomy on him because he couldn’t breathe, then a helicopter took him to Soroka Hospital for a brain and lung operation.”

Nelly calls it a miracle that her son is able to lead a normal life. She started volunteering through Sar-El in June 2018, and since then tries to come to Israel with a group of new immigrants from France two to three times a year. 

From Ukraine to Flatbush, and then Sar-El

Shamuil and Valerie Sholomon left their Ukraine home in 1978, immigrating to the United States and restarting their lives as a young couple in Flatbush, New York. Like Nelly, they work at the logistics unit at Tel Hashomer, where all army units send medical supplies and where Sar-El volunteers check whether these are outdated or expired. 

“The day passes very quickly. You focus on the work. You have breaks for lunch, and then in the evening you talk to people and relax. You sleep a lot because the weather can be exhausting,” said Valerie.

This is the couple’s third time volunteering in Sar-El. “Our Israeli friends say, ‘Are you crazy? You’re paying money to work?’” But Valerie laughs it off. “It feels great to put on the uniform. It warms my heart.”

Coming back to life

At age 19, Jan Starachowski from Warsaw, Poland, doesn’t mind feeling, in his words, “like a gear in a machine.” Starachowski says that seeing how the army functions on the logistics side has motivated him to do IDF army service, make aliya, and complete his degree in aerospace engineering in Israel.

“The fact that I’m from Warsaw is like living in a cemetery. There isn’t a lot of Jewish history in the school curriculum in Poland, which is strange because Poland has had a thousand years of Jewish history,” he said. Starachowski has Jewish ancestry on his mother’s side from Krakow and has heard stories of how the majority of them perished during the Holocaust.

The buck stops here

Maj. Einav Leket, a logistics expert with a long career in the IDF, is the commander in charge of all the volunteer units in the IDF, including Sar-El. 

Sar-El volunteers inspire her by the generous way they give of themselves and their time, she told the Magazine. 

“When the volunteers come to Israel, we start to wonder why are they doing it. They pay a lot of money for the airline tickets, and to stay in Israel when they’re off base on weekends. They give of themselves not to lie on the beach but to work. I think it educates us. It’s very special for me, a reminder of what’s important in life.”

She was quick to point out that it’s not just the volunteers who are sacrificing their time and routine. It’s also the family members who remain behind. 

Jerusalem jewelry designer Barbara Diamond can affirm that. She recalled her late husband’s love for Sar-El volunteering. 

“When Bernard volunteered for Sar-El every summer, he was in his mid-60s. It was a vacation of sorts for him, while he left me to run our three retail stores in Southern California. His specialty was working on tanks, removing a portion called a “get,” she said, noting wryly the humor of a tank portion that conjures up divorce. 

“I called his annual leave ‘Camp for Big Boys.’ Bernard was a body-builder into his 80s and earned the nickname Shimshon for his strength in lifting the cannisters.”

Diamond recalled how Bernard adored and admired the young soldiers. Since his passing a year ago, she has sponsored the supply room at the Michael Levin Base for Lone Soldiers in his memory. 

Being actively involved in more than one army-support group, it turns out, is not uncommon in Israel. 

Bernie and Leah Weinberger are also Sar-El volunteers. Bernie, retired from being an engineering project manager, and Leah, from her career as a speech and language therapist, have been active volunteers for years with the Michael Levin Base in Jerusalem – which is not affiliated with Sar-el. Leah is on the board, active in facilitating Lone Soldier Shabbat programs, and Bernie is in charge of upgrades and repairs. 

Volunteering for Sar-El is a shared activity for the Weinbergers, and they are already anticipating what will be needed at the start and at the end of this very tough war. 

“Usually, the work we do are the things that the soldiers don’t have the patience to do. We’re talking about teenagers. They don’t want to sit in one place packing supplies, taking inventories,” Bernie explained.

“When reservists come back from the war, we’ve got to clean their tanks, guns; field packs emptied; uniform and helmets sorted out and cleaned. They’re the future leaders of the country and when everything is said and done, they’re there for us. Kol hakavod (much honor to them). Our soldiers are truly our tzaddikim (righteous holy ones).”

Is this a pre-army experience? Depends on the volunteer

Hadas Farjon is one of a cadre of young soldiers who puts her energy into making the experience downright challenging for the volunteers in her charge. According to Farjon, who at 18 isn’t always older than the volunteers, she sees her role beginning with making sure the volunteers are getting three meals a day, with special menus for those who have allergies, and making sure that gluten-free options are provided. But it doesn’t end there.

“We had a group of teenagers from Uruguay and Argentina. They didn’t know my name. They actually didn’t know anything about me. During the training in the army, you don’t know anything about your commander. In Sar-El, when we work with younger volunteers, we will create distance, to make the teenagers feel like they’re in the army. They can’t do whatever they want. There are strict rules. I’m not allowed to smile,” Farjon explained. 

“When they discovered I spoke Spanish and understood everything they were saying, they laughed in embarrassment, as they were shocked. They saw me as a mifakedet, only as an instructor,” she recounted.

“Why give them that experience? It’s kind of fun to be a soldier for a week and experience army discipline. It’s role playing. But it’s more. They feel like they’re soldiers in training. We do workouts. They run a lot. For talking when they’re not supposed to, they get punished with push-ups.

 “I’m happy they gave me this post, so I get to see the cultures of the different volunteers,” Farjon added. 

“I love the Zionism. It makes you feel meaning; doing something important. It makes me feel lucky that I was born in Israel and am part of something big and can make a difference in the volunteers’ experience.” ■

To learn more about Sar-El volunteering opportunities, go to

Sar-El in a nutshellSar-El accepts volunteers in accordance with the IDF’s needs.The minimum age to be eligible to volunteer is 16. The oldest volunteer thus far has been a 96-year-old Holocaust survivor. Each Sar-El program is tailored to the age group of the volunteers. The IDF assigns them to different bases and activities, unless they ask to return to the same unit.Sar-El has welcomed volunteers from over 30 countries, of all ages and backgrounds. The IDF does background checks on everyone who applies.The program is also open to those who have made aliyah.You don’t have to be Jewish to apply.Married couples who come together sleep in a private room.The Sar-El workweek runs from Sunday through Thursday.Everything except kitchen work is given to volunteers. This includes repacking medical supplies, folding army uniforms, repairing, painting, and logistics. Volunteers from abroad are required to cover their own travel arrangements.The average stay of a volunteer is one to three weeks, although groups of volunteers may come for just a day.The IDF is responsible for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and accommodations on base.Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel volunteered through Sar-El, fixing truck brakes on an IDF base during the Gulf War.

TOPICS: Extended News; Israel; War on Terror
I'm applying.
1 posted on 11/30/2023 7:55:17 PM PST by Uncle Miltie
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To: Uncle Miltie

I’m waiting for Kal-El. Heck, even Zor-El would be interesting.

2 posted on 11/30/2023 8:03:32 PM PST by Dr. Sivana ("If you can’t say something nice . . . say the Rosary." [Red Badger])
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To: Uncle Miltie

Probably a good thing I can’t sign up. I’d enjoy killing those Hamas demons too much.

3 posted on 11/30/2023 8:14:44 PM PST by Nateman (If the Pedo Profit Mad Moe (pig pee upon him!) was not the Antichrist then he comes in second.)
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To: Uncle Miltie

If I were young and able, I would sign up.

4 posted on 11/30/2023 8:54:17 PM PST by roving (👌⚓Deplorable Listless Vessel with Trumpitist who looks Trumpish)
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To: Uncle Miltie

Weird that our recruiters ain’t making their goals huh?

5 posted on 11/30/2023 10:30:52 PM PST by rktman (Destroy America from within? Check! WTH? Enlisted USN 1967 to end up with this💩? 🚫💉! 🇮🇱👍!)
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