A Spiritually Elevating Experience

This October was my 6th volunteer stint with SAR-EL and essentially the third with the same core group of volunteers—we are becoming like family.  This trip we served at an Air Force logistics activity near Tel Aviv.  It was a great experience, we all worked very hard, and I learned a great deal about the IDF again, and interestingly, a great deal about the connections between the IDF and the United States’ logistical support for the state of Israel.

First, a quick lesson in what we used to call “Materials Breakdown Activity” back from when I was in the US Army.  The trucks come on to the base and deliver cargo pallets of supplies to the warehouse.  The troops unload the pallets and break down the bulk supplies into manageable groups, such as 100 bolts, 50 rifle magazines, 20 cans of paint, etc., and place them on ceiling-high warehouse stacking shelves.  They record the counts and the shelf locations in the computer, and then they are ready to fill orders from the field.  Nothing secret here, just hard work, lots of organization and a zero tolerance for errors.

As we grouped the deliverable items, I noticed that the stock numbers for almost all of these items were in a format familiar to me—they were the Federal Stock Number formats that the US military uses.  Most of the gear we received was of American origin; I felt right at home—I could read all of the descriptions and instructions!  Most of us have read about the $30 Billion in aide that flows to Israel from the US as part of our 10-year support package. Few of us are privileged to actually see the aide arrive and get out into active service!

My warehouse manager’s name was Yossi.  He managed a “dati” warehouse where all of the soldiers were religiously observant.  Their morning ritual was to lay tfillin, pray, then make the volunteers comfortable with coffee and treats—then go to work.  It was a spiritually elevating experience just to watch.  They started us off with easy tasks.  When we finished our first assigned “day’s work” by 11 AM, they understood that we were there to work!  After that, there was no shortage of work and we were accepted as part of the warehouse crew.  We got to do everything but drive the cherry picker/fork lift.  Probably a good decision!  By the way, the size of the warehouse was posted as four dunams; a measurement right out of Torah.

This was also the first time that some Sar-El volunteers wore the new rust colored volunteer berets.  Everyone loved them, especially the soldiers.  The picture shows us with the new berets while we attended a change of command ceremony at the base.  The IDF Air Force General in attendance posed for a picture with us.  While all of the attending soldiers were standing at attention on the parade grounds, the Sar-El volunteers were seated with the guests of honor in shaded stands.  Have I mentioned how much they appreciate us? 

We were informed on the first day that arrangements had been made for the volunteers to eat in the officer’s mess.  We told our Madricha that part of our responsibilities included communicating with all of the soldiers, especially the younger ones about Sar-El, and the fact that the IDF does not stand alone; that we volunteer to help them and support them.  It was important for us to eat with the enlisted troops as well.  Once we made our concerns known, it was agreed that we could switch back and forth—and we did.  The woman serving breakfast behind the counter every morning knew we were volunteers, and snuck in little pastries, which she surreptitiously placed, on our trays.  I have no words for that; we were home with Saftah.

I have run out of adjectives and superlatives to describe my annual Sar-El experiences.  We get so much more out of the experience than we put in.  Yes, we had only one shower for ten volunteers, and it took us the first week to discover the secret location of the electric switch that controlled the hot water.  Yes, eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers three times a day (along with some other foods) are a less than a five star diet, but all of those “hardships” pale when compared to the profound sense of accomplishment and joy we all experienced.  I am already counting down the months until next October.

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