I Remember - Volunteers for Israel

I Remember

By Joan Allyn Kodish

I remember with great fondness, my first chance to volunteer in Israel through the aegis of VFI/Sar-El. In fact, I remember with joy each and every one of my volunteer assignments.

I remember being on the telephone with my long-time friend, |Sally. On the spur of the moment we decided that we should go back to Israel together Neither of us wanted to spend a king’s ransom; nor were we the least bit interested in taking a regular tour. We had both already done much of the touristy stuff and did not want to repeat the buses, tight schedules, etc. A quick internet search gave us a name: VOLUNTEERS FOR ISRAEL and the perfect vehicle for returning to Israel was staring us in the face! We could do tikkun olam (take action to improve our world) have fun, be a little adventurous and, maybe, meet interesting and adventurous people. There was no downside. We both knew that we could do any job for three weeks. The excitement built in the days that followed.

It was terrific! We applied and interviewed with a dynamic Regional Manager who obviously loved Israel. He told us what to expect and described his own experiences volunteering through Volunteers for Israel. Jim’s enthusiasm was contagious! Flight arrangements were made and suitcases were stuffed for our adventure.

Soon, it was Sunday morning at Ben Gurion Airport, where we met our group members and the madricote (young soldiers) whose job was to teach and make life as comfortable as possible for volunteers) before heading to our assigned bases in private buses.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS CAN MEAN SO MUCH….For us, our impressions were all good! The base commander even took the time to greet each of us. The fellow volunteers we met were interesting people and everyone pitched in to make moving in and getting uniforms quick and painless. Laughter abounded as we tried to find uniforms that would more or less fit. Our barracks reminded me of the cabins at a really classy summer camp. We were pleasantly surprised to find that we had a rudimentary air conditioner, plenty of electrical outlets, restrooms nearby and lots of fresh vegetables to eat with the remarkably delicious Israeli dairy products.

Sunday afternoon through Thursday mornings we worked in small groups at various warehouses. Our group of five or six sorted and packaged tools for quick repairs on the front lines while we laughed and got to know each other as well as the other, native employees and draftees. Meals were social events of the highest order! Stories and anecdotes were exchanged every day as we plowed through all kinds of fresh, tasty and abundant fare.

WHAT DID SALLY AND I GIVE during our first volunteer stint? We were fortunate enough to use our time-management and work-flow skills of our USA lives to revamp cataloguing in the warehouse. We saved the State of Israel some money and a few reservists from having to leave their homes, jobs and families to report.

WHAT DID WE GAIN? We met wonderful people from all over the USA and Europe. I met a woman with whom I became so close that even now we refer to each other as sisters. We experienced the heady feeling of contributing hands-on, which generally does not come from writing a check. We enjoyed beautiful weather and the celebration of Purim both on the base and in Tel Aviv. Most of all, we found that, even before we left our IDF “home,” we wanted to return to Sar-El—and have done so over and over and over again!!