What an experience [I had]! My group was assigned to the Southern Command base in the Negev about 20 miles southwest of Beersheva. I volunteered for work in the field, which involved finalizing maintenance on tanks and armored personnel carriers and then closing them up in what amounted to industrial grade zip-lock bags. It was extremely physically challenging but I can say that I enjoyed every moment.
The work was very fulfilling because we were working side by side with the soldiers to complete an important task. I very much enjoyed the aspect of the work that allowed us to bond with the soldiers and officers.
The living and working situation was pretty good (once you looked beyond being in the field all day where it was 100-110 degrees, the constant coating of every body part with sand and grit and sharing the space with scorpions). We had air conditioning in our rooms and the food served in the mess hall was actually quite good.
Our group of volunteers became very close and friendly. The evening programs were mixed in their quality but I understand the difficulty in appealing to a wide cross section of volunteers from different backgrounds. But the voulunteers were all good natured about the programs and particpated to the fullest.
I spent my first leave in Tel Aviv, which I loved, and my second leave in Jerusalem, which I loved even more. I can safely say that (next to getting married and having children) this was the best experience of my life.
The first time we had flag raising and they played Hatikva was very emotional for me (hard to hold the tears back!). The Israelis I met were very friendly and engaging. When they learned that we were in Israel to work on an army base they were so thankful to learn that a group of volunteers were coming to Israel on their own time and expense to serve their country.
I hope to make this an annual event.