Sar-El The National Project for Volunteers for Israel Thu, 21 Feb 2019 12:21:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Important Announcement Sun, 03 Feb 2019 07:11:29 +0000 On behalf of Sar-El, I would like to announce that
Pamela Lazarus will complete her work with Sar-El at the end of February.  

 I want to take this opportunity to thank Pamela for her contribution, care and dedication to Sar-El for the past 16 ½ years.  I wish her all the best of luck and success.
Sar-El is pleased to announce that Mrs. Miri Sharon will be our new volunteer coordinator.  Miri is married with 4 children. She served in the IDF and was responsible for education on our bases. She has a BA in Arts from the Hebrew University.  Miri has an extensive experience accompanying overseas army missions as a military attaché’s wife and has spent one year in Kansas City and 3 years in Caracas Mexico.  She will help our organization to continue its growth in communities around the world.  We welcome Miri Sharon to our family.  

I would like to thank you in advance for your cooperation and patience during this transition.
Miri Sharon’s Contact Details:
Phone: +972-54-7550137
For volunteers on our next scheduled program beginning on February 17, you will be provided next week with a new information sheet on Instructions for Arriving in Israel. 
Best Regards,
Shlomo Stav
Shlomo Stav
Executive Director, Col. (Res)

Kol Havod to Yegal! Wed, 23 Jan 2019 09:19:16 +0000 A few months ago, when Sar-Elnik Yegal was here on a program, he offered Program Coordinator Pamela a smart phone. Pamela gratefully declined,


saying she already has a good phone and  doesn’t need another one. So it was suggested to give the phone to Ben, who often collects equipment for IDF soldiers. Ben decided to save it for an opportune time to give to a needy soldier.

Yesterday (Jan. 22) Ben wrote a letter to Yegal, saying that the phone was given to a young lone soldier named Josh who was injured in a training accident when his “hummer” flipped over. Josh was pinned for 30 minutes under the vehicle but thankfully only had minor injuries. However his phone was destroyed. So Ben gave Yegal’s phone to Josh.

This is what our Sar-El volunteers do. Kol hakavod to Yegal and Ben. And of course we wish the best of everything to Josh.

Reflections of our VFI Journey on December 7 – 23, 2018 Wed, 23 Jan 2019 08:34:01 +0000 By Annette Scheel

Our journey to Israel was complete in every way. Accommodations in each of our hotels were excellent. Meals were tasty and rooms were quite comfortable. In Haifa the hotel clerk (Bay View Hotel) was somewhat reluctant to give us quarters until he phoned local VFI personnel. At which time he realized that indeed we were registered.

The next morning we boarded a small bus and returned to the Tel Aviv airport where we had just arrived the evening before. Pam Lazarus efficiently directed each volunteer to their respective base. Ours was an IDF Air Base near Tel Aviv. Quarters there were suitable. The hospitality of the military was amazing.

While the commandant was in Russia his assistant welcomed us onto the base. Our work clothes were issued, neatly pressed with a tee shirt to keep. We changed into our new garb and off to work we went. My husband and I and another couple were assigned to a large warehouse where we assembled and reassembled boxes and supplies to be distributed to other bases.

We worked together for the entire two weeks. It was amicable even though John, our volunteer colleague was an industrial engineer and somewhat questioned their efficiency with the system in place to handle these boxes, crates and containers. Our madrichot young ladies were delightful. They were very feminine and very efficient, kind, helpful and concerned for our well-being. Emma left after the first week with a generous send-off from our group. Shahar was a beauty from Yemen and very poised and efficient. Dany returned from a respite in Milan, Italy and was also able to join us without missing a beat. She was present when Shahar presented us our certificates of service during a farewell party.

Their activities in the evening were game-like and informative. On two evenings Ross, a lone soldier from New Jersey spoke to us. His insights were memorable. He recognized five traits that one automatically learns in the IDF: organizational skills, responsibility, timeliness, to follow and how to lead. We all wished our American young people could get such training at this age.

Our weekends were filled with amazing activities. Sharona was our second substitute guide while we visited Gush Etzion. We ate lunch at Jerusalem train station and then took a long walk through Yemin Moshe housing complex, now an art center. Next day Julia surfaced and with such style. She led us through the Machane Yehuda market tasting and eating amazing foods including: Burekas, sahleb, kube, dates, knafe and halav. That was certainly a lot to take in during this cold and cloudy day. Fascinating and delicious all in all.

Back to the base where our room suddenly received large box holding a television set. Hardly room for 4 girls much less a TV. The three in my room were grateful for the extra bed to use to pile things. The rooms were generally unkempt and likewise the bathrooms. After our inspection and personal attacks our room shaped up somewhat.

Weekend sightseeing was so worthwhile. We visited the outside of the American Embassy and shot photos. The Knesset was so interesting. Visiting Bethlehem was good. The Church of John the Baptist was lovely and visiting Mary’s Spring and finding a spot with ice cream was an added plus. Lunch here in Ein Kerem was delicious and my chicken livers were wonderful. Our main guide, Julia was at the top-of-her-game at every minute. She arranged, rearranged and organized such a wonderful experience for our small group.

Seeing the political, the religious, the scientific and the cultural aspect of this land and people created a very well-rounded tour each weekend. Our parting days on the base were easier since we knew more of the routine and which dining room to enter for which meal. On the final day in the midst of a torrential rain we finally met with the commander of the base who thanked us profusely for our service and awarded us certificates of memory. This was our second certification of appreciation. We did indeed feel appreciated. This base was home to the most gracious group of soldiers and leaders. What a pleasure to be in their midst. Often during a meal random soldiers would wander over to our table to join our meal to exchange ideas, practice English or just extend a friendly outreach. How we appreciated their welcome.

Our group of eight seemed to bond together quite well. Our seventeen- year old, tentative initially, grew more comfortable with the elders as the days passed. Those in the eighty category kept the pace with all. We shared many experiences of mutual interest from the States and learned from one another.

Our final dinner was bittersweet that we were parting, but we did celebrate Diane’s birthday in fine style. The last days of Hanukkah passed with little mention as we were entirely immersed in our new life. This was a wonderful trip. Even though the tasks were repetitive we felt that we were helping the State of Israel in some small way. To have this opportunity to serve what is spoken of as G-D’S Land is in some way supernatural. Upon returning home to the USA the fallout of blessing continues and with each story we share we are happy to give a good word about The Land of Israel, the VFI program and the partner Sar-El. 

Newsletter 75 Wed, 23 Jan 2019 08:11:53 +0000 Obligatory Bus/Train Card Wed, 16 Jan 2019 09:24:26 +0000 There is a new rule regarding buses and trains in Israel. Everyone must purchase a “Rav Kav” card BEFORE going on a bus/train. The bus drivers will not take any money.

You can purchase these cards at the central bus stations and train stations, as well as at the airport. The best place is to buy them is at the airport at the Transportation counter in the Arrivals Hall (near where the Sar-El groups meet). The cards are 5 shekels and then you put as much money as you want. I would suggest a minimum of 50 or 100 shekels. If you are going to be in Israel for a few weeks and plan to take a few bus/train rides, you should probably put 100 shekels on the card because if you run out, the bus drivers will not add more money once you are on the bus. There are kiosks and stores in the cities where you can “refill” the cards, but NOT on the buses.
Angels From Heaven Wed, 09 Jan 2019 13:01:36 +0000 Sixty-eight year-old Lawrence from Canada, Danielle from Australia, and Samantha from New York, all recently arrived at an IDF military camp in Israel.

It may sound like an unusual destination for three foreigners, but this trio arrived to take part with others from abroad in a three-week Sar-El program, during which they will help the army’s logistical unit prepare for any upcoming emergencies.

Torin from Arizona says he came to Sar-El after recently becoming interested in his Jewish roots. “My Mom never hid her Jewish roots from us,” he said. “But neither did she place much emphasis on it. After high school, I decided to find out more about Judaism and Israel, and it was then I decided to come to Israel and get to know the Jewish State,” Torin explained.

Hundreds of miles away in the American state of Washington, Mark, a dedicated Zionist and father of two, was having similar thoughts. He wanted to come to Israel and contribute directly with his own hands. “My special connection with Israel began from a young age,” said Mark. “I volunteered on Kibbutz Naan some 40 years ago, and then during the Tzuk Eitan conflict I wanted to return and somehow help Israel. Many Jews around the world give money to the State of Israel and that is important, but I believe that the most important contribution I can make is being here,” Mark said.

Last week Mark and Torin and another four volunteers from Canada, Australia and the USA, wound up together on a base in southern Israel.

“During the past year, we have hosted four groups of volunteers from around the world,” said the base’s Sargent Major Liron Shoval. “These groups have helped us prepare our emergency supplies, bolster the ranks of our workforce and come up with creative ideas and solutions to some of our logistical challenges,” he said.

Sar-El’s Commanding Officer Mali Avronel pointed out that Sar-El volunteers range in age from 16-85, and include Jews and non-Jews. “Sar-elniks come from every walk of life and are people who feel the need to help Israel. They pay their own return airfare and join us on the base to help prepare our logistical supplies,” she said.

Avronel explains that the volunteer groups usually come for between one and three weeks, and are guided through the program by a group counselor (madricha), who has undergone a five-week training course. “The counselor’s job is to also run evening activities for the volunteers and help them get to know more about the IDF and the State of Israel,” she pointed out adding that Sar-El volunteers also enjoy day trips and lectures, and have the opportunity to get up close and personal with Israeli soldiers.

Canadian Lawrence is a Sar-El veteran, having done the program 16 times already, but he says each program is different and special in its own way. “My most rewarding moment came when a medic told our group how every time he needed to quickly pull out life-saving medical supplies in an emergency situation, he found them exactly in the right place in the pack. These were the packs that we prepared for the unit,” Lawrence said, adding that he was proud to know that their logistical work helped save soldiers’ lives.

The Sar-El program is also a very important part of volunteer Samantha’s life. As Mark’s daughter, she has grown learning about Zionism from her father. She participated in a college exchange program in Israel, volunteered with the Lone Soldiers Program, and is now spending her vacation time doing Sar-El.

“It may seem to some that I am far from home, but for me, Israel is my home,” she said. “I very rapidly understood that there are amazing people in this program and that we all became connected to the base. My next step is to make Aliyah (immigrate to Israel). Once I joined Sar-El and put on a uniform, it was clear to me that once I do become a citizen, I would like to serve in the IDF. The agreement that I made with my parents is that I would first complete my degree in International Relations, and then make Aliyah and enlist in the IDF. I will be able to follow my dream in April, when I finish my degree,” she said.

One of the most important features of the Sar-El program is to establish a group of ambassadors abroad, who support Israel and the IDF. Sar-Elnik Danielle, a Christian nurse from Australia, stumbled onto the Sar-El program whilst looking for a volunteer experience abroad. “I had heard lots of negative things about Israel from the newspapers and television, but decided that I wanted to get to know the country and its culture up close,” she said.

Although Danielle did not have any family or friends in Israel, she decided to first get to know her local Jewish community, and afterwards she came to Sar-El. “I felt that doing the program was the best way to help Israel, and the immense challenges the country faces. On the program I met wonderful people from the army and around the world and I saw and understood what an advanced, strong, and special country Israel is.” Danielle said.

Since the program’s inception in 1983, every year some 4,500 volunteers come to Sar-El and “that is a significant multiplier of our personnel, said Sar-El Commander Mali Avronel, adding that Sar-El volunteers are like “angles from heaven.”  

As for the volunteers, most describe the Sar-El experience as unforgettable, and make lifelong connections with friends from the program. For the soldiers and the IDF, the contribution Sar-Elniks make is immense and greatly appreciated. “So many people in the world do not understand the situation here in Israel, and some are even afraid to visit. However, Sar-Elniks pay their own way, work hard on the base, and are highly motivated. Working side by side with the soldiers the volunteers help boost morale. We cannot express our appreciation enough,” summed up Mati Sheleg, Logistics Commander for the southern division.   

Edited and translated by Stacey Miller

(The article originally appeared on the IDF website, written by Carmel Libmen)


Temporary Closures This Year at Beit Oded Wed, 02 Jan 2019 08:31:39 +0000 Beit Oded will be closed the weekend of February 28 to March 3, 2019. Further closures later on during the year include: 

March 20-23 (leave bases on Wed.)
April 18-20
May 8-11 (leave bases on Wed.)
June 6-8
August 15-17
August 29-31
Sept. 26-28
Dec. 26-28
Sar-Elniks on KKL/JNF Trip Wed, 19 Dec 2018 12:49:34 +0000  

A group of Sar-Elniks recently enjoyed a special trip with KKL/JNF. Click here to take a look:




VFI Plus Reviews its Archeology Program Wed, 12 Dec 2018 14:49:31 +0000 VFI Plus recently conducted an archeology program in conjunction with its five operating partners: VFI, Sar-El, IDF, IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority), and GIL Travel. 

VFI PLUS ARCHAEOLOGY PROGRAM – 11/18 to 12/1/2018 

SUMMARY This 14-day prototype program diversifies the standard time-tested VFI programs and opens our market with a new, unique volunteer opportunity. This initial offering had a 4-month marketing window and unfortunately overlapped both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. Nonetheless, it attracted 12 serious volunteers of which 6 participated.                                   

The 14-day All-Inclusive program cost round-trip airfare plus $2,500. The trial program is deemed a success by all five operating partners; VFI, Sar-El, IDF, IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority), and GIL Travel, and will result in additional All-Inclusive archaeology offerings during 2019.


Each of the program’s 4 major elements performed well, requiring just minor tweaks. Element 1 – The IDF 4.5 day volunteer service was performed at the Air Force logistics base Lahav, near Tel Aviv.

The hospitality was superior, as were the accommodations, quality of food and personnel. The work assignments were split between the men working in a FedEx-like package distribution center, and the woman in a highly automated warehouse. Sar-El provided a superior IDF base location, and outstanding Madrichote.

Element 2 – Touring for 2.5 days was intense, active and diverse, targeting 4-5 activities per day in our private vehicle. The touring is focused on interesting yet less popular sites, and our hotels were 4-5 stars.

Element 3 – Volunteer for 5 days at an Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) dig near Haifa called Tel Assar. The IAA provided an authentic hands-on archaeological experience at a unique megaproject dig site which focused on the Chalcolithic period to Early Bronze Age. Our findings were dated to 6,000 years old, on a site occupied by pre-Canaanites. The daily one-hour bus ride departed at 6:00 a.m. for dig site, and we worked until 2:00 p.m., eating lunch onsite. A professional archaeologist was assigned to our group and guided our efforts. The work at the dig was a mix of physical labor intermingled with fine work tasks. Our work site was shared with friendly Arab laborers and several experienced archaeologists who provided support and daily educational lectures. We only worked 4 days on-site due to a scheduled site closure on the 5th-day, so additional touring was conveniently substituted.

Element 4 – Touring for 3 days in our private vehicle was rapid-fire and informative, again targeting 4-5 activities per day, with little wasted time. Our closing dinner was held in a tasty Jaffa restaurant. GIL Travel provided all transportation, tour guide and activities, 4 and 5- star accommodations, and most food. All transportation was in private buses. Our tour guide, Julia, was an absolute wizard, not only in regard to creative touring content, but also able to pivot to explore opportunities, and resolve issues. I acted as group leader for the motivated and educated group with an average age of 70 years.

Meetings were held with senior IAA personnel to explore additional program ideas for VFI-IAA participation. The resulting business plan will propose 2 or 3 new programs for 2019 in conjunction with the IAA. Initial plans are to offer VFI PLUS ARCHAEOLOGY in the Fall of 2019, and also in the Spring. A new program, “VFI PLUS ARCHAEOLOGY 2” is under consideration which would allow either one- or two-weeks volunteering on an IAA dig site.

View a brief IAA thank-you video clip at:

Submitted by Steve Plotkin, Program Manager





Seven Times Lucky! Wed, 12 Dec 2018 13:39:25 +0000 Sar-El trip number seven! We are in the Upper Galilee at the southern approach to the Golan Heights.  We are becoming expert at organizing work in IDF warehouses! 

I think our group is starting to get a reputation; we can finish a week’s worth of work in two days—IDF: be prepared to keep us busy! I can operate a pallet jack like a professional and move tons of equipment in minutes! After forty years of sitting behind a desk, I am questioning my career choices. We are the “other October group” composed of Americans, Canadians, Germans, and Swiss who proudly wear the new Rust-colored beret. Our “sister group” is the group of Canadians who also come every October to pack medical supplies. This year Pam Lazarus, our coordinator and leader, had 29 groups of volunteers in October we were told.

Some of us at our base have been assigned to the kitchen—it did not improve the cuisine. Some of us have been assigned to trimming vegetation—the camp remained a dreary Army post. Some of us have been assigned to painting yellow lines in the warehouse parking and storage areas—we cannot reveal our secret of painting miraculously straight lines! 

The camp commander, Nir, had us in to his office early during the first week. He welcomed us warmly and had fruit and soft drinks on his conference table for us. He went around the table to learn about each one of us. He insisted that we report any problems to him immediately. He looked at me and said: “When I [look at you], I see my father. I want my soldiers to treat you like they should treat my father.” Did I mention that he is six years younger than my son?

One stark fact which the commander did drive home to us was that this base would become the key hub of logistics support in the North should a war at Israel’s northern border ever occur again. Base staffing would increase ten-fold with an infusion of milu’im (reservists); it made us acutely aware of the importance of the work we were doing!

Groundhogs and hyenas complimented the natural environment at the base. The groundhogs were responsible for endless tunnel entrances (and tripping hazards) spread all over, and the hyenas provided an eerie baying sound mostly around sundown. We spent our evenings showing each other pictures of our children and grandchildren and comparing our medical conditions—what a great group! On the weekends we were exhausted but that did not stop us from walking the entire length of the “Tayelet” in Tel Aviv all the way down to the port of Jaffa and back. Israel is amazing! We had dinners together at great neighborhood restaurants and shopped at the Carmel market together. 

Every year I understand more about Israel and its unique dynamics. While we were at our base in the North, a Hamas rocket from Gaza destroyed a house in Be’er Sheva in the Negev. A young mother got her three children safely to a shelter when she heard the sirens at 4 o’clock in the morning just moments before her home was destroyed.

Israel later retaliated by destroying twenty targets in Gaza.  Life in Eretz Israel is all the more precious for its precarious nature; but that is their “normal”. If we can make a difference through Sar-El by showing this young generation of soldiers in the IDF that we care about them and love them, and that they are not alone in the world, then our annual volunteering is worthwhile.

(Picture copyright free. )

I urge those of you who are contemplating a volunteer stint to take that step. Get on the plane; resign yourself to some challenging conditions for your body, but some elevating experiences for your soul. You won’t be sorry!

Thank you again, Sar-El, for giving us the opportunity to fulfill the Mitzvah of Tikun Olam

See you Ba’shanah ha’ba’ah (next year).