At the end of this month, 10 men and nine women — ranging in age from 28 to 80 — will be traveling to Israel, but not on a leisure trip. Volunteers for Israel in the U.S, in conjunction with Sar-El, an Israeli-based volunteer organization, will send the group to work for two weeks on an Israel Defense Forces base to help with everything from cleaning and repairing military equipment and re-packing supplies for Israeli soldiers in the field to working in the kitchen.
Sar-El is one of three IDF-approved organizations that connect volunteers to work on-base. Lawrence Feldman, VFI national president, will be volunteering this month for the fourth time with his wife, Joan.
Feldman explained that volunteers must fill out detailed paperwork including medical forms, and VFI interviews each participant “so they know what they’re getting into, and for us to make sure they’re appropriate for the program.” Participants must be capable to complete tasks that would be required on a military base such as walking a mile in extreme heat or lifting 20 pounds. “They’re here to help the army,” he said.
VFI sends volunteer groups twice a month throughout the year. Volunteers receive reduced airfare and free room and board. Once arrived, volunteers are issued IDF uniforms, stay in army barracks described as sparse lodgings and wake up at 6 a.m. each day. Feldman added, people “don’t go for the food.”
But there are many repeat volunteers, and it’s an incredibly powerful experience for all who attend, he said. Volunteers work side by side with Israeli soldiers and have an opportunity to know them socially and get a taste of IDF from inside the country, not just through the news.
“It gives you an opportunity to help Israel with your own hands,” said Feldman. “It is a unique and tangible way.”