Sometime between 2005-2007 I read an article in the Sarasota Manatee Jewish News “Volunteers Wanted” and it gave contact information regarding VFI, Volunteers for Israel. I recently returned from Israel, from a VFI tour, actually two three-week tours, back-to-back. I joined 14 other volunteers at a base near Be’er Sheva for the first tour. On the second tour we were 11 volunteers on a base a little west of Tiberias.
Unlike my 2008 VFI experience, and my own personal hope to work with Israelis, we were grouped with other volunteers. We were an interesting mix of people who helped each other and worked together for the benefit of Israel. Along with the volunteering work there was also some education, enlightening and learning about Israel, past, present and future, including a day-trip and half-day-trip to interesting and historic places.
Our first trip, a day-trip, took us from Be’er Sheva to one of the early kibbutzim in the Negev, near Revivim. We were told about the role this kibbutz played in Israel’s early statehood. Then we went onto Mitzpe Ramon to look over the Ramon crater. On the return trip to Be’er Sheva we stopped at Ben Gurion’s Negev home and also his and his wife’s burial place.
Our half-day trip took us from Be’er Sheva to Sderot. This was perhaps, in my eyes, the highlight of the Be’er Sheva tour. We saw an indoor playground with bomb shelters (and also air conditioning) for the children of Sderot. Children in the playground can make it into the protective shelters in less than the 15 seconds following a warning siren of an incoming rocket. The remodeling of the warehouse/factory was a J.N.F. project.
We also stopped at a Magen David station, (Israel’s Red Cross), and I found out that the average life of an ambulance is only 100,000 km’s. Those vehicles live a rough life; in a small town like Sderot there seem to be no easy trips for the ambulances. We had 2 more stops in Sderot, the fire station and the police station. At the fire station there were two fire trucks and two fire men. The larger fire truck looked like a 1980’s Model, European in style but very well worn and used. The newer truck was like what we here in the US call an attack truck on a heavy pick-up chassis. This newer truck was sponsored by a German city. At the police station we got to take a look at the leftovers of the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. Several thousand had been collected and placed on shelves to serve as a reminder. On the way back to Be’er Sheva we stopped at Israel’s Air Force Museum.
My next three week tour was on a base near Tiberias. As I said before here we were also a mix of volunteers. One couple, Jeremy and Claire, were a Brit and a South African living in France. Jeremy is a freelance writer. He was our “Guest Speaker” one evening and talked about an article he had submitted about the Air France pilot, who was at the help of the hijacked plane that had landed in Entebbe, Uganda. His editor suggested that Jeremy should try to locate some of the survivors of that eventful trip.
While Jeremy was talking we were interrupted by a couple who came into the room late. As Jeremy was talking the man who had come late interrupted to correct Jeremy. Now the secret was out. These couples were survivors and now members of a kibbutz. They had been on that eventful flight that had been hijacked to Entebbe. As Jews they were rescued by the Israeli soldiers on what we now know as “The Entebbe Raid”. As you might imagine we were very surprised to hear this and the information they provided was very eye-opening. We learned that what was shown in the Entebbe raid movies is not what transpired. For me, meeting this couple was the highlight of this 3 week tour, if not of my overall 2011 VFI tour.
Volunteering for VFI and having these kinds of experiences makes me love volunteering even more. VFI has requested that exact locations and exact type of work performed not be discussed for security reasons. I am sorry about the vagueness of this article. I would have been happier to talk more about what we did and what else we were involved in. This trip was not just a sightseeing tour; we completed the work asked of us for the benefit of Israel. In a year or two I am looking forward to another volunteer trip in Israel.