November 2019 Volunteer in the Spotlight—Betty Misler

By Joan Allyn Kodish,

I heard the most interesting anecdote recently. VFI Board Members, Jean Campaiola and Roger Harris told this writer that they had met a most remarkable woman; all because of Jean’s Sar-El cap!  At a Raleigh NC performance of Tsofim, the Israeli Scouts, an elderly woman recognized the Sar-El symbol and struck up a conversation about her love of Israel and the great adventures of her life, including five trips to Israel in order to volunteer with Sar-El during its infancy in the 1980’s.

She would love to volunteer today.  She would do anything to be capable of what she did in her younger days, like scurrying up to top bunks and shaking hands with Gen’l Davidi.  It is a singular honor to shine Volunteers for Israel’s November spotlight upon a true pioneer, 96 years young Betty Misler. 

Thanks to Betty’s careful preservation of documents and items from her days as a Sar-Elie, Jean’s encouragement and Roger’s photography skills; it is a delight to introduce new generations to the indomitable Mrs Misler. 

Betty spent the first 85 years of her life in Johnstown, PA where she married and raised two sons and three daughters.  In addition to caring for her family and serving as president of the local Hadassah chapter for three years, our honored volunteer worked in her father’s grocery store as well as at her uncle’s kosher butcher shop.  Later, at the side of her husband, Betty owned and operated three supermarkets.  They were sold to a grocery chain in the late 1950’s and the couple moved into the bowling business.  They owned and operated three bowling alleys in Johnstown and two in the State of Israel.  She sold the last bowling facility and retired to the Raleigh area when she turned 85.

AltMore than 35 years ago, Mrs Misler (then a widow) was visiting friends in Florida.  At dinner one evening, another guest regaled those assembled with stories of his adventures in Israel during the Second Lebanon War.  He had volunteered to do farm work through the aegis of a then-new organization called Sar-El.  He described the Spartan but adequate housing, the camaraderie of the volunteers and their pride in helping the State of Israel.  He also raved about the General who had started the program!  Betty was fascinated and primed for adventure.  She soon applied and set out for Israel, with one of her daughters, in 1985.  She adored each and every one of her stints on various Israel Defense Forces (IDF) bases.  Among the Sar-El job assignments she fondly remembers were:

• Going to the shooting range to retrieve empty shells

• Separating laundry

• Making hundreds of chicken schnitzels—from pounding and breading the meat to frying and arranging the finished products on huge trays

• Painting fences and cardboard boxes; and

• Washing plastic chairs

She does not remember the names of all the bases upon which she served; nor does she particularly remember any sub-standard housing or problems with either food or with her fellow volunteers.  On the contrary, she remembers her Sar-El tours of duty as an opportunity “to meet so many nice people and share some of the best times ever!”  She even inspired two other Johnstown residents to follow in her Sar-El footsteps.  If Betty was, today, sixty or even seventy, she would “go back to Sar-El in a half minute or less.”

As can be seen in the accompanying photographs, Mrs Misler met and chatted with Gen’l Davidi on a number of occasions.  He personally presented Betty with her first “diploma” and Sar-El pin.  One particularly exciting Sar-El experience was a 1988 musical performance at Masada.  In honor of Israel’s 40th anniversary, the volunteers were invited and treated as honored guests.  They were rushed off their planes and through customs so they had time to change into uniforms for the big event.  Each volunteer was also given a rose.  Gregory Peck served as the master of ceremonies in front of President Chaim Herzog, Prime Minister Itzhak Shamir and his assistant, Shimon Perez.

Mrs Misler met Tali Lev, the artist and widow of heroic pilot, Zorik Lev, who fell during the Yom Kippur War.  They met on a United States to Israel flight, when Betty was enroute to Sar-El.  Betty was invited to the Lev home and was, there, introduced to Abba Eban and Rafi Eitan, of Mossad’s Eichmann detail, among other Israeli dignitaries.

“I have so many wonderful memories and good friends.  I cannot begin to express how much I enjoyed it” she gushed.

Please join the officers and board of Volunteers for Israel in a hearty mazal tov to our November Volunteer in the Spotlight, the indominatable Betty Misler, pioneer Sar-Elnick and matriarch of five generations living in Carey, North Carolina.