sar-el idf volunteers 248 88.
(photo credit: Daniela Feldman)
What do retirees from English-speaking countries, an Italian high school student, Spanish Anusim (Marranos), a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, a South African minister and a former IDF soldier have in common?
Not much, until they all moved into the volunteers' lodgings at the Tel Hashomer army base.
Coming from all walks of life, 33 volunteers from around the world arrived last week to prepare packages of medical supplies for soldiers. They were organized by the Sar-El Volunteer for Israel Program (www.sar-el.org), which has been bringing people to help the army since 1983.
The group is serving during the IDF's volunteer appreciation week and will participate in a special ceremony in Jerusalem on Thursday.
Sar-El veteran Natan Glassman, a dual Canadian-Israel citizen, who told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday he has done 75 stints with Sar-El, called this particular group of volunteers the most diverse he's ever worked with.
Groups usually have a common language or come from the same country, but he is impressed by the range of people participating in Sar-El this August.
"It's really special... This group is different because the people come from all over the world," he said.
Glassman has countless stories of his experiences volunteering with the army, of which he said he could "write a book." Even after all these years, though, his enthusiasm has not diminished, he said.
Marion Richer, from Connecticut, is also a devoted participant. She has "made a commitment" to visit and volunteer in Israel, calling it a "part of her life" for the past 16 summers.
"We made this commitment and we don't stop coming. This working is important and necessary," said Richer, who arrived last week and will be volunteering for the next three months. Most Sar-El volunteers complete three-week sessions.
"Many of us feel guilt when we are away from Israel and are not able to help the country in a tangible way," explained Rachel Schwartz, who was born here but has lived in Toronto for most of her adult life.
"Just touring and spending money to help the Israeli economy is not sufficient," she said. "This goes beyond that, and actually gives back to the community."
This is her first time volunteering with Sar-El.
"We all want to contribute in some way and this is a wonderful feeling [to help the soldiers of] the country we love," Schwartz said.
Nili Kimelman, a resident of Hallandale Beach, Florida, lived in Israel as child and served in the army.
Kimelman, now 71, "feels like a child again" in her IDF uniform.
During her military service more than 50 years ago, she was stationed near Tel Aviv, not too far from Tel Hashomer. She feels the she can best serve by giving back to the soldiers, particularly because she was once one herself.
"It's an unbelievable feeling and amazing to be volunteering with people from all over the world, because we all have our own connection to Israel," she said.
On his sixth trip to Israel, David Del Coso, from Toledo, Spain, is volunteering for the first time. He is here with six friends, all Spanish men who come from families that suspect they were Jewish many generations ago and were forced to forfeit their Jewish traditions by the Spanish Inquisition.
"We are very happy here, we feel connected," said Ruben Garcia Medina, a 20-year-old from Andalucia.
Del Coso explained that there is a lot of anti-Semitism in Spain and they feel it is important to come to Israel so they can learn enough to influence people back home. The last time he was in Israel, Del Coso studied Hebrew in an ulpan at Kibbutz Sde Eliahu. It was his dream to enlist in the army, but he was unable to do so because of his age.
"It's complicated because I need to convert, but I want to move here," he said.
He picked this particular volunteer session because he is a nurse in Spain and wants to continue that in Israel, so he finds it beneficial to help with medical supplies.
Oscar and Marsha Schwartz, who divide their time between New York and Florida, made the decision to volunteer after Oscar's recent retirement.
"It's the first year we can travel for long periods of time," said Marsha, who was born in Israel. "Israel has given so much for us, and this is a way we can give back."
She and her husband, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, hope to spend more time living, traveling and volunteering here because they feel very connected to the Jewish state.
Chazera Vitale, a student in a Jewish high school in Rome, said he was extremely content that he is spending his first trip to Israel as a volunteer. Though he's only staying for 16 days, he knows he will return.
Roberto Borri, a therapist based in Milan, is not Jewish but has volunteered four times with Sar-El in the past, always helping to organize medical equipment. Not just because he enjoys the work, but because he gets great satisfaction from helping Israelis, because Israel shares many of the same values as Europe, he said.
Vivienne Murison, a preacher who holds the second-highest position at a ministry in Cape Town, decided to come back to Israel for her third time as a volunteer.
"Israel is the center point of the whole wide world and I want to invest my time for the Jewish people because we really must all stand together," Murison said.
She arrived on Monday, and will stay at the army base for three months.
Twenty-year-old Greg Epshtein, from Colorado, signed up for three Sar-El sessions this summer. He is joining the army through the Mahal program in a few months and wanted a good way to spend his time and to meet people from all over the world.
The volunteers have a jam-packed schedule that involves working in the army's largest medical warehouses and preparing supply kits for paramedics and army bases.