Dear Karen & Adina
I promised to write you about my Sar El experience. But first I want to thank you for a wonderful shabbat dinner. You both are terrific; and when I remarked about it to people, every one concurred … so I pass along the compliment that your Tel Aviv area olim really appreciate you.
On Thursday I returned from an extraordinary week volunteering with the IDF … what an experience! When I made aliya in my 50s, I regretted not having served in the army; and although I downloaded the SarEl application to volunteer with Tzahal, I never acted on it because I imagined I was too old. But recently an email from Nefesh b’Nefesh arrived in my inbox, inviting olim to apply. So I jumped on the opportunity.
It was possibly the most exhilarating week since I made aliya. We had a fabulous diverse group of olim, aged 40 to 83 — all fit, active, in love with Israel, proud of the IDF, and ever-grateful to our chayalim. And how impressive the soldiers were! It was inspiring. Our volunteer group came away with new perspectives about Israel. Beautiful strong young girls, with long hair and make-up, were giving orders, managing, negotiating difficult situations, and making things happen. And gorgeous responsible young men, wise beyond their years, cooperated and worked together. A country in the hands of amazing 20 year olds!
We were on a logistics base (Anatot) and the work we did was to check, pack and stack heavy kit-bags for soldiers who’d be called up on short notice. Our two fabulous madrichot were fun and good-spirited. We worked during the day and the madrichot provided informative evening programs … and we had lots of laughs. On the first night we were given some basic rules … and they were great rules: No one was allowed to talk about politics or religion; men and women were not allowed to touch (except for high-fives, welcome-back hugs, and the like); and no men in the women’s barracks and vice versa. These particular rules effectively took the most charged / electric subjects off the table and out of play. And this made for camaraderie, friendship and great relationships. The food at our base was very good – healthy, plentiful and delicious. On our first morning at the flag-raising, the commander of the base thanked us profusely for the work we were doing. Many people in our group were very moved by that.
Before I went, I was excited to contribute. I felt lucky and privileged to be able to do something meaningful, in Israel for Israel. Personally, I love order, systems, and managing … so on the base, I was fascinated to see how groups formed, worked together, cooperated (and sometimes didn’t) and, through it all, laughed and enjoyed and appreciated each other. We were very fortunate to have a group with a great attitude, who signed-up expecting (and determined) to make the most of the experience.
I don’t want to over-glamorize the conditions, because it was real work on a real army base. We were walking along a dusty road to and from the warehouses, twice a day in the heat; taking (sometimes conflicting) orders from soldiers; and living in real army accommodations … 4 or more to a room with bunk beds and minimal shared toilets and showers.
Need I say I loved every minute of it, and everything about it? Our group formed wonderful new friendships across age-groups and geographic locations. We have a lively WhatsApp group and several of us have already seen each other and got together.
A big thank you to Nefesh b’Nefesh for making this available.