My Trip to Israel - Volunteers for Israel

My Trip to Israel

By Gerry Moskowitz
Wow, what a fabulous experience! My first trip to Israel was not as a tourist, but as a volunteer with Volunteers for Israel (VFI), an American organization that is referred to as Sar-El in Israel. VFI’s members are civilian volunteers at IDF army bases to help the soldiers with their tasks. I arrived in Israel on Friday afternoon on an El Al flight from JFK and stayed over at a nearby hotel until Sunday morning. We met at the airport arrival area and were assigned to our IDF bases all over Israel. There we met our English speaking 19-year old Madricha (guide), who expertly guided us through the rest of our trip, boarded buses, and we eleven volunteers arrived at our destination. We first got our work uniforms and sleeping bags, sheets etc. and made our way to our barracks. After setting ourselves up in our bunks, we went to dinner in the kosher dining hall and ate with the soldiers. Early Monday morning, properly uniformed, we had breakfast with the soldiers. Flag raising followed and throughout the weeks we were on the base, we got to take turns raising the flag. It was quite an honor to be with the soldiers and raise the Israeli flag, indicating our support for them and for our pride in the State of Israel. We were assigned a number of work tasks and my job involved tanker helmets and communications gear destined to be refurbished. The work was not particularly exciting, but it was of great value to the soldiers at the base and was further evidence of our commitment to them. On Thursday afternoon, in civilian clothes, we boarded a bus for our weekend activities. My first weekend was spent inside the walled Old City in Jerusalem. We of course visited the Kotel (Western Wall) on Friday night where we came upon 125 soldiers who were in the process of completing their officer training and had come to the wall for their celebration. They were singing and dancing and since I knew some of the songs, I started singing with them. Before I knew it I was in the circle with them, singing and dancing. Even though they were 50 years younger than me, I managed to keep up, probably finding the stamina from the thrill of it all. After touring many world-class Jerusalem sights, it was back to the base Sunday morning via public transportation. Donning our uniforms, we went back to work. On Tuesday, we were treated to a bus tour and visited a Druse village, the Technion University in Haifa, and an aromatic spice store. Many of the women in our group found the spice store most interesting. On Thursday afternoon, our volunteer IDF service concluded and we left the base for our own travels. Mine was to Tel Aviv where we toured museums and visited friends. We departed for home on Sunday evening. I had no trouble with Israeli airport security, especially after they learned I was with Sar-El. In fact, the attitude of the security personnel melded into a heartfelt thanks. In summary, it was not the work or touring or sightseeing that I best remember; it was my interaction with the Israeli soldiers and their gratitude for the interest we showed in them and in the country they defend. While we have it good here in the U.S., Jews in other parts of the world are not so lucky. Anti-Semitism is still very much alive and has taken a position opposing the very existence of Israel. Israelis understand this very well, which is why the existence and support for organizations such as VFI is so important. Not only Jews, but many Christians visit Israel via VFI. This is one way Israelis know that they are not alone in the world. Going to Israel via the VFI program also gave me the chance to meet and interact one-on-one with Israel’s youth from the inside, in addition to seeing the country, getting to know the people as well as seeing the historic sites. I am already looking forward to next year’s VFI visit to Israel. – Gerry Moskowitz, St. Louis, splmosk3@charter.net