April 14, 2024
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Sar-El: Helping the IDF

“Shall your brothers go out to war while you settle here?” The tribes of Reuven and Gad requested per­mission to remain behind in the fer­tile lands east of the Jordan River and not to inherit in Israel proper. These words, from the most recent parsha, were Moshe’s response not only to the tribes, but also across three mil­lennia to us, as well. When Moshe realized the two tribes intended to cross the river and fight with the rest of Israel, only to return to their homes after the conquest was com­pleted, he instructed them to build cities for their children, prepare pens for their flocks, and to arm them­selves for battle.

There are many here today in Northern New Jersey and all over America who would like to share in the responsibility of defending Isra­el, knowing that so many there are forced to leave their homes and fam­ilies and risk their lives to protect the nation. We watch CNN and follow re­ports of casualties in Gaza and we just don’t know what to do, being frustrated at our inability to contrib­ute in any meaningful way. Fortu­nately, Israel has a professional and well-trained army with no need for Americans to get involved with the fighting. However, for each combat soldier an army typically requires seven military personnel to support him. That’s where we can help.

The Sar-El program began in 1982, during the first war with Lebanon, when civilian replacements were needed for thousands of reservists called to duty just as Israel’s harvest season began. Israeli General Aharon Davidi sent emissaries to the United States to enlist volunteers to harvest crops and save the economy. More than 600 volunteers respond­ed immediately.

As part of Volunteers for Israel (VFI), the U.S. contingent of Sar-El, more than 30,000 Americans have signed on to do civilian work on Is­raeli Defense Forces (IDF) bases since 1982. Duties could include such sup­port services as updating medical kits, preparing gas masks, connect­ing communications systems in hel­mets, sorting uniforms, and oth­er functions that need to be done on the bases. Newer programs in­clude two Summer International Youth Programs, a possible add-on to Taglit-Birthright tours, and other volunteer options. In the past five years alone, more than 5,000 people have gone on VFI programs.

“It’s simple. If we can do these tasks, Israelis who just served in Gaza can go home to their jobs and fami­lies. Reservists who get called for oth­er duties might be able to go home sooner. Otherwise, “they would have to do the work,” states Marion Mittel­man, North Jersey Ambassador for VFI. The mobilization for reservists is very costly to the country, as well as to the individuals involved, emotionally and financially. “Not only do these vol­unteers provide essential support, but they also assure Israel that she does not stand alone.”

As a VFI volunteer, you can choose between one-, two- or three-week programs. When you arrive, you will be greeted by a Sar-El representative and quickly assigned IDF fatigues and a madri­cha (female soldier). The madri­cha functions as your translator and logistics handler. She coordi­nates all activities relating to your time on the base, including meals, work, and evening activities, and any other issues you may have in adapting to work on the base.

You may have the same job for the entire week or different jobs during your time there. Typically, you will dine with other soldiers and at nighttime have the ability to socialize with the members of your group. If you stay for two or three weeks, you will be taken on a trip on Thursdays, the IDF’s way of saying, “Thank you.”

Several years ago, I participat­ed in a one-week program with a group of ten people from Northern New Jersey. We worked alongside a group of Christians from Iowa who took a week off their three-week tour of Israel to also work on a base near Tel Aviv. Lawyers, doctors, journal­ists, along with other professionals, all were happy to do whatever was required, even if the work was meni­al at times.

“At home, everybody wears a different hat,” explains Steve Mit­telman, North Jersey Ambassa­dor, “but, on base, we all wear the same hat, which is ‘army issue.’ We’re here to help our country, and to alleviate some of the bur­den the people here have to bear.”

However, the benefits are not just a one-way street. As a volun­teer, I came away with a tremen­dous feeling of pride in what I had done. Bonding with my com­rades, dining with the soldiers, and meeting with people from other countries and ways of life, was all part of the positive expe­rience.

The defense of Eretz Yisrael con­tinues 3,000 years after Moshe’s re­buke of Reuven and Gad. So, make sure your children are safe in their cities and your pens are in order for your sheep; and, then, reach out to VFI. Permit yourself to an experience of a lifetime, a source of pride for you to share with your children and grandchildren: that you were there for the State of Israel when they needed help.

To contact VFI, please go to www.vfi-usa.org. or contact the Mittelmans directly at 973-396- 8006 or [email protected]. If you are not in Northern New Jer­sey, they will direct you to the proper people.

David Siegel is a Home Lending Special­ist with Citibank in it’s Englewood office. Siegel can be reached at david.siegel@ citi.com or 201-419-1330.

By David Siegel

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