Volunteer in the Spotlight

By Joan Kodish

Volunteers for Israel (VFI) is pleased to honor Mark Werner as our very first Volunteer in the Spotlight.

Many readers of the VFI’s Volunteer Connection will recognize Mark as the President of the VFI Board. This Renaissance Man is, however, also a family man, a stamp collector, a life-long Zionist, an author, a retired business attorney and a seventeen-time VFI-Sar-El volunteer.

Mark developed his interest in and love of Israel at a very early age. He grew up in the moshav-like Jewish farming community of Vineland NJ surrounded by those whose forearms bore the tattooed numbers of concentration camps. Except for distant relatives in Israel, Mark’s father’s family was decimated by the Nazis and the Poles. He wanted to meet those remaining family members as well as help the State of Israel.

With the take charge attitude, which is a hallmark of his adult life, Mark sent an unsolicited business plan to the President of the Jewish Federations of North America in 2002. He proposed the creation of an organization would send American volunteers to IDF bases in Israel where they could provide organized assistance to the troops and State. The President thanked him but advised that such an organization already existed. Thus, Mark Werner learned about Sar-El!

Mark learned from his father, a survivor of Ha Shoah, that such a cataclysm of hate and anti-Semitism, as Nazism, occurs periodically in history. He believes that “Only the existence of the State of Israel prevents another Holocaust.” Volunteering with Sar-El, thus, became the answer to his question, what can I do to prevent another Shoah? During the Second Intifada, in 2002, Mark first volunteered for Sar-El service and has returned sixteen more times, including five times with his son.

Mark’s first literary foray was editing the book, Fighting Back: A Memoir of Jewish Resistance in World War II. It chronicles Mark’s father’s story as a leader in a large Jewish partisan unit, which successfully saved Jews and fought the Nazis in the Polish forests during the Holocaust. These feats of bravery helped defeat the Third Reich and were honored by the State of Israel’s issuance of a postage stamp depicting Fighting Back’s cover.

Werner keeps a journal of each Sar-El experience. In 2008, the first four of those journals formed the basis of his first book, Army Fatigues: Joining Israel’s Army of International Volunteers. He has a second book, about subsequent Sar-El experiences, in the works. Mark also blogs, about his experiences as a Sar-elnik, for The Times of Israel, and hopes that his writing will encourage more people to join our volunteer corps.

Mark is grateful that his Israel journeys have enabled him to become friends with fellow volunteers from all around the world. He believes that these friendships, along with the camaraderie between Sar-elniks and IDF soldiers, are only two of the many reasons why VFI-Sar-El participants become “hooked.” His best experiences have occurred when he was assigned to combat bases near the borders. Soldiers on one base so appreciated the efforts of the volunteers that they referred to Sar-el volunteers as “Angels from G-d.”

In the odd moments, when Mark is not, spreading the word about Sar-El and growing the number of volunteers, he enjoys his family in Raleigh NC. This retired General Counsel of a major multi-national company, is a husband, father of two and grandfather of two. Mark is also an avid stamp collector. He hopes that, some day, his grandchildren will develop an interest in philately and also in volunteering with him in VFI.

Three cheers and a salute to Mark Werner, volunteer extraordinaire!!