Qualifications and Health Advisory
Sar-El’s Volunteer for Israel program is open to any participant who is a supporter of Israel, older than 16 and is in good physical and mental health.
Please note that health insurance and a doctor’s sign-off is required for all participants.
Health care in Israel is at a high western standard, but many IDF army bases are in isolated areas with limited available medical care. Volunteers must discuss their medical problems and detail all issues prior to arriving.
Listed below are some health tips to consider.
FITNESS: You should be on an exercise program as part of a daily routine, and comfortable with it before leaving for a Sar-El program. Assigned jobs on the base can include light or heavy lifting, or standing for long periods of time. Please expect to work for up to 8 hours a day of manual labor. We can take breaks, rest periods, and if
necessary, check with our Madricha about changing to a more suitable job.
If you are on medications, check with your doctor before starting your exercise program.
Particularly for older volunteers, the physical activity of the program, traveling, and changes in diet and climate may have serious consequences so please be sure to disclose all issues prior to arrival with Sar-El. At Sar-El’s sole discretion, a volunteer may be disqualified from the program at any point if physical or mental fitness is not up
to IDF standards.
IMMUNIZATIONS: Israel does not require any immunizations for entering the country.I found it wise to obtain an annual flu shot.
A tetanus vaccine every ten years is recommended. A vaccination for pneumonia should be considered for volunteers 65 years and older, with chronic cardiopulmonary conditions and/or smokers. Vaccinations should be obtained at least 4-6 weeks before leaving for the program.
MEDICATIONS: Keep prescription medications in original containers in carry-on-luggage. Please include a list of all medications on your application.
On most IDF bases volunteers do not have access to refrigerators and those that are available are not of a standard to store medications.
Volunteers with any condition which requires refrigerated medication will not be able to join the program (See VFI Medical Information Form about medications requiring refrigeration).
Wear a Medical Information Bracelet for allergies or for any special medical condition you may have such as diabetes.
Older volunteers may take more medications than any other agegroup and are often at a higher risk for adverse drug reactions.
A volunteer should not start a new medication just before starting the Sar-El program.
HEALTH INSURANCE: It is a requirement for the Sar-El program. Medicare will not cover the volunteer in Israel. Be sure to check your current policy if a travel clause is included.
You may need to purchase suitable travel insurance.
GASTROENTERITIS (GI): GI symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or fever.
Contact from another person or from food poisoning can cause gastroenteritis.
You should rest and not become dehydrated.
Seek medical advice with vomiting, severe diarrhea lasting more than 1-2 days, dehydration getting worse, high persistent fever or severe abdominal pain.
Tap water in Israel is safe to drink and the food on the army base is safe to eat, but be careful of food from street vendors.
There is a tremendous variety of cuisines and food eaten in Israel. Meals on IDF bases are kosher army food
and may not be what you are used to.
BACK PAIN: Volunteers are often given jobs on the base that entail physical activity that we are not used to doing at home.
To alleviate the problem, tell your Madricha if your job is more than you can handle. For sore muscles, you may want to take nonprescription pain relievers. Also, learn to lift properly, wear proper shoes (see program handbook) and as noted above, an adequate exercise program at home before joining the program will be helpful.
HEAT EXHAUSTION: Israel has many hot days, and many of the job assignments require us to be outside.
Drink plenty of water during the work period, wear a wide-brimmed hat, wear light-colored and loose fitting clothing and use sun screen.
Older adults are more vulnerable to heat because it takes more time to adjust to the heat.
Volunteers on certain medications for cardiovascular conditions, medications for psychiatric conditions and medications for diabetes are at an increased risk for a heat-related illness.
Check with your doctor to see if your health conditions will be
affected by working outside in the sun. You may want to volunteer for a time when there is cooler weather in Israel and for a job where the volunteer can be inside a building.
SLEEP DISORDERS: Volunteers using CPAP(continuous positive airway pressure) machines for treatment of obstructive sleep apnea should bring machines that can be used for international travel.
The CPAP machine should not be a disturbance to other volunteers in a multiple bunk room.
A backup battery must accompany the CPAP machine in case of a power shortage.
If the CPAP machine is a disturbance to other volunteers, the volunteer may be asked to leave the program.
The volunteer with a CPAP machine should be comfortable wearing the mask and make any necessary adjustments before leaving for Israel.
Volunteers who snore need to bring earplugs for their roommates.
Be sure to consult with VFI/Sar-EL personnel and/or your doctor regarding questions about one’s sleep disorder before joining the program.
DIABETES: A number of volunteers who come to Israel have diabetes which is managed by diet and/or medications.
The American Diabetes Association has an online site with information for diabetics who will be travelling.
The volunteer should review this information.
Before leaving for Israel see your doctor for a medical exam to make sure your diabetes is under control, and have a letter explaining what you need to do for your diabetes, and have a prescription for insulin and/or pills. Volunteers with diabetes should carry snacks and glucose tablets for emergency sugar sources at all times.
The volunteer with diabetes requiring insulin should consider where diabetic supplies including insulin will be stored while on a Sar-El program. Insulin stored in very hot or very cold temperatures may lose its strength.
As noted above, adequate refrigeration is not available to the volunteer on every base.
The diabetic volunteer who does require refrigeration for his/her diabetic supplies will not be able to join the program.
Be sure to have more than enough diabetic medication in case of an emergency, and the diabetic volunteer should wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace that shows the volunteer has diabetes.
Since one will be on long flights, exposed to different activities, and have meals on IDF bases that may not fit your usual diabetic diet, test the blood sugar more often than usual.
Diabetics should stay hydrated, treat dry skin and skin cuts, follow daily foot care regimen and bring comfortable shoes and socks.
It is my hope that these health tips will help volunteers have a happy, healthy and
rewarding Sar-El journey.
By Wesley C. Walker, M.D.