NGO SAR-EL hosts Follow the Soldier day at IDF bases

The purpose of course is to strengthen the connection with both Jewish AND non-Jewish communities the world over that support the IDF and the State of Israel.

A flag is signed on Follow the Soldier day. (photo credit: Courtesy)
A flag is signed on Follow the Soldier day.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the summer of 1982, at the height of the Galilee war, towns and villages on the Golan Heights stood to lose their crops as thousands of hectares were left with no manpower to work them. 
Enter Brigadier General (Mil.) Dr. Aharon Davidi (of blessed memory), formerly a Paratrooper and a local leader of cultural and community activities in the Golan Heights at the time. It was his brainchild to pick a number of committed members from these circles that he knew well, and send them off to the USA to recruit volunteers.
Within a few weeks 650 volunteers were in Israel and when their work was done, they pushed to have this pilot project of volunteerism become an ongoing volunteer organization.
So, indeed, in the spring of 1983 “SAR-EL” was born as an NGO; the National Project for volunteers in Israel. SAR-EL is an acronym for Sherut Avor Yisrael (Service For Israel), and over the years these volunteers have come from 60 different countries to take part.
The purpose of course is to strengthen the connection with both Jewish AND non-Jewish communities the world over that support the IDF and the State of Israel; to bring an army of volunteers from all four corners, to contribute to the security of Israel.
SAR-EL offers logistical support to soldiers. Our members work on bases packing medical kits for the field, repairing mechanical equipment, and packing and inspecting a variety of field equipment and battle necessities.
The Chairman of SAR-EL is Brigadier General (Mil.) Tzvi Shor, a volunteer faithfully doing a job he clearly loves. With the excitement of a child in his voice, he explains how the organization works.
“The volunteers of SAR-EL provide logistical support on IDF bases from the heights of the Golan to the vast Negev in the south, and we are the only such program to do so. It’s a fantastic platform for unique learning experiences and new friendships that seem to last.
It turns into an organic cultural exchange between Israel and all of those volunteer countries as we afford these volunteers an opportunity to live and work beside Israeli soldiers and experience a very real, very crucial side of life here.”
The retired Brigadier General starts to choke up as he continues; “From its inception to the end of 2019, the project has recruited approximately 250,000. We’re establishing a worldwide network of Ambassadors; a global support system for Israel and the IDF. And some of our volunteers have come many times. There are married couples who have done the program together, older children with their parents who have participated, and even grandkids with their grandparents.
The organization is managed pro bono. These directors provide invaluable support in the form of their respective expertise. There are attorneys in the group, high ranking army personnel, physicians, etc.
Colonel (Mil) Shlomo Stav is the CEO of the SAR-EL Office of the IDF, and a former high ranking officer in Israel’s General Security Forces (the Shabak).
“Our Mission is to encourage, promote and organize Jewish volunteers in the Diaspora to supply working hands for the IDF and garner general support for Israel.
A by-product of this, also very important, is our intention to show the Jewish Diaspora that they are also taking part in the design of the future of the State, and to highlight for them the multitude of advantages of living in Israel. This process, thereby, turns these volunteers into true ambassadors in their home states, in their own communities.
Part of this support and another goal of course is the recruitment of funds, as the budget at our disposal does not allow for any expansion of the program, nor allow us to supply the volunteers with a full IDF experience such as: seminars and studies, and lectures about the plethora of activities of the State. It neither provides for meaningful interaction with the soldiers. The aim is to facilitate an authentic IDF experience; to sleep, eat and shower where, and what, the soldiers sleep, eat and shower.
The dream I have is to reach 10,000 volunteers in the IDF by the year 2025 and it is an achievable goal! We can do it if we tether the IDF to supportive communities throughout the world who want to show their support by taking part, and actually witness military drills, see the soldiers taking the oath in the oath ceremony, etc.
At the end of the day, it really encourages a lot of healthy dialogue, and the whole IDF experience would not be complete of course without the de rigueur seminars and tours to historical and heritage sites.
Shlomo Stav, CEO of the SAR-EL Office of the IDF with Volunteers on the base.
One of SAR-EL’s special projects, now in its second year, is made especially for groups of Jewish students from colleges in the USA. To date, there have been 4 such groups and there are additional groups already in the pipeline.
These students have a robust program with lectures from VIPs, tours of important heritage sites, and seminars that will give them tools to cope with the anti-Semitism permeating their campuses.
This project is a joint mission with Volunteers for Israel USA, SAR-EL, and the IDF.
Volunteers described their experience with SAR-EL as an unforgettable one where they forged meaningful friendships that will last for life. For the soldiers, and for the IDF, the contribution is also huge, and very much appreciated.
During a very lavish dinner held on a Military Intelligence base somewhere, some of the group shared the opinion that because many people outside do not understand the situation here in Israel, many are afraid to visit.
“So we are Ambassadors for Israel, our amazing Nation, and we strive to present the real picture; the facts on the ground”.
Morris – a businessman from Argentina
“It was a great experience to be a Volunteer in this program. We sleep in military bunks, eat our meals with soldiers and watch their daily exercises, drills and ceremonies; it’s really cool. It feels authentic, and to see so many supporters from so many countries all coming here to Volunteer is a tremendous morale booster for the real soldiers.
One of my duties was to clean and restore stretchers that had been used just days before to bring the wounded to safety. I really went the extra mile with that task in the hope that these stretchers I was cleaning would never be needed for that purpose again.
That experience made me feel very connected with Israel and it was now very clear to me that I would be back…”
On an IDF base somewhere in the Negev I met Ilene; the Hi-Tech executive from France and mother of three.
“I am very happy that I volunteered. We are six men and six women in a very diverse group of people from the Czech Republic, Ireland, Brazil, Hungary, New Zealand and the USA.
Even the three members of the group that are not Jewish still harbor a great love for Israel and her people. We all look really cool in our khakis, with IDF written over our hearts. It’s also really moving to be in uniform during the flag unfurling ceremony in the mornings while we’re singing the National anthem “HaTikva”. We all shared a common calling - a need to help this tiny state in any way we can. I think maybe just being with the soldiers had a far greater impact and advantage than the actual work we did there.”
I also had the honour of meeting Lawrence the Canadian, one of SAR-EL’s veteran volunteers, after he had done the program 16 times.
He claims that every time has been special in its own way. “The most rewarding moment for me was when a medic told our group how every single time he reached for a piece of life saving medical supplies in a moment of crisis, he always found what he was looking for, exactly where it was supposed to be in the medical chest.
These were the medical supplies that we put together for that unit”, said Lawrence, adding that he is proud to know that his group’s work in logistics has already assisted in saving lives. 
“In my opinion”, Lawrence sums up; “Every Jew in the world must do this program in SAR-EL.
The medic, and his supplies, encapsulates the experience for me.”