Message From Our Program Coordinator


August, 2017

Another summer has passed and it has been a busy one, as usual. We had hundreds of volunteers from all over the world, including a lot of young people ages 16-25 who joined special youth groups. All of our volunteers worked hard all year on a variety of bases. Some of the bases were more “fun” than others; some had more soldiers around to interact with; some of the bases had more work than others. But no matter what, our volunteers all had good experiences and I hope that they felt that they really contributed to the IDF. As important as the work is, it is equally important to show the soldiers that people around the world care about them. I know that soldiers on the bases where they had contact with the volunteers really felt that the volunteers cared. It is up to our volunteers to reach out to soldiers–to talk to them and tell them what makes someone from across the oceans, thousands of miles away, come to volunteer. When  a volunteer does this, I know that it makes his time here more worthwhile than just sitting and working in a warehouse for three weeks, without interacting with the soldiers. As I tell the volunteers at the airport, the soldiers are basically shy at the beginning. They will not go up to a group of people who speak a foreign language. It is up to the volunteers to go up to the soldiers and start the conversation. Then, by the end of the 3 weeks, the volunteers and soldiers will have become friends and the experience will be better for everyone. Many of our volunteers have developed long lasting bonds with soldiers through the years.

My summer was especially busy with my grandchildren, who stay with me each summer. They were born in Israel so they are “sabras”; the Israeli culture is in their blood. But unfortunately they live in the US now. But at least they come to me each summer, go to camp here, and are real Israelis for 2 months of each year.  Many of the volunteers saw them this summer; many volunteers know them from when they were babies. I hope that they are the future Sar-El generation–the third generation of my family since my daughter also did the program a couple of  times.

This year, 2017, marks 20 years since I did my first Sar-El program. I remember all 10 of my programs as if they were yesterday. Each base had its pluses and minuses, as do the bases of today. But each program was wonderful, full of great memories. As I have said many times, my Sar-El friends are my closest friends.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy New Year and I hope to see you here as soon as possible.

I want you to read this letter below from Johnny. This to me sums up why we are here; why I volunteered so many times before I made aliyah; why I continue being part of Sar-El and continue trying to inspire all of you.

Now Johnny is my inspiration and when you are on a base and things are not as good as you think they should be, I want you to remember Johnny’s words and remember why you are really here. 

I thank all of you for your help and I hope to see you back here as soon as possible.

Pamela Lazarus

Sar-El Program Coordinator


(In Israel) 052-8219-945 (cell)

(From Abroad) +972- 528-219-945 (cell)


Sharing the Difficult Moments of Conflict

By Johnny Cahn

This was my fifth Sar-El stint, and as with every other one, this again was the best.  Of course, I can’t say where we went and what we saw, but this trip was truly special.  We were at a base in an area that I never thought we would be sent to; we served with a battalion that I never thought we would be assigned to. 

I took some photographs of generic subjects, desert-scapes and road signs, but the real memories will the photographs of the young men and women I took with my mind’s eye.  As always, we worked in the area of logistics, moving stuff from point A to point B, but we were surrounded by young fighters.  As everyone knows, the IDF is composed of essentially two types of soldiers: the fighters, and the “jobnicks”.  In the US Army, the equivalent would be the door-kickers and the REMFs (the RE stands for Rear Area).

We were in a warehouse packaging kits for the soldiers in an improvised production line. A soldier approached me.

“Are you Johnny?”

“Yes, what’s your name?”

“I am Avraham (not his real name.)

Na-eem meod, Avraham.”

Na-eem meod.  They told me you were a fighter in Vietnam, Johnny.”

“That was a long time ago, Avraham, probably before your parents were born.”

“Why did you come here; you already did your fighting.”

“I came here to help you and Israel; my parents were in Auschwitz so I know how important it is for Jews to have a safe place in the world.  I also come here to make sure you and your fellow soldiers know that you are not alone.”

“Thank you for doing this.”

“It’s a mitzvah, no need to thank anyone.”

“What is the pin on your uniform?”

“It’s a five-year pin.  This is my fifth time of mitnadvut.”

“Johnny.  You have been doing this for five years?  I think you are crazy!”

“Many people agree with you.”  We both laugh.

I look at his red boots (combat boots worn by elite fighters).  “Avraham, you are a fighter, right?”


“Can I ask why you are working here in the warehouse while your comrades are training right outside?”

“I had an incident.”  He pauses.  “A Palestinian threw a pipe bomb at me.  It did not explode, but it struck me in the eye.”  He lifted his eyelid with his finger and I could see the injury to his bloodshot eye and the surrounding area. 

For the next few minutes he recounts the incident to me in detail including his counter measure to the combatant who had assaulted him.

“Johnny, I cannot sleep most of the time.  When you were fighting in Vietnam, did you have the same thing happen to you?  I see this scene over and over again in my head.  They have assigned me here until I can get over this.”

I stare at him.  “Yes, I have had that experience.  The recurring thoughts are called a loop.”

“When does it go away?”

“Never, . . . if you have a soul.”


“It gets better over time.  You learn to cope with it, but it comes back when you are weak or tired.”

“How can you cope?”

“I was lucky, medication worked for me; I still take anti-depressants, and they are very effective for me.  Others with more severe cases benefit from counseling and talking about their experiences and feelings with others who have had the same experience.”

“I have been talking to a counselor here.”

“In the States we have made significant progress working with PTSD; you know what that is, right?

“I think I am learning now.”

“One of the coping mechanisms I always remember is that if the things you see and do in combat disturb you, it means that your heart and soul are functioning properly.  If you tear yourself apart over right and wrong, then your parents raised you well.  If you never forget these experiences and learn from them, then you’re a Mensch.”

He gives me a hug.  I’m a little embarrassed because American men don’t do extended hugs.

“Avraham, make sure you get medication and counseling.  You will be fine; I am very proud of you.  You will probably not realize how much of a hero you are until you are my age and are talking to a young soldier, maybe your own child, who comes to you for advice.”

As with all other volunteers, I pray that some day our Sar-El service will no longer be needed, and that all future trips to Israel will be to visit our historic and holy sights, or to spend time on the beach in Tel Aviv.  Until then, we’ll keep coming back and supporting our defenders.  Am Yisrael Chai.


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