Israel’s survival: It’s not a given
It is late September and my allotted vacation for the beginning of November is looming. There are plenty of projects here at home to complete or places within driving distance worthy of revisiting. What shall I do… where shall I go?
I have had the privilege to have extensively traveled for both work and pleasure. This has included several trips to Israel, and my thoughts now consider a return trip. The marvels of science and the accomplishments of mankind allow an aircraft to lift us to the other side of the planet… but the dreaded full day of being confined in a tube above earth and the associated jet lag also loom. However, with my daughter having recently made Aliyah (residency in Israel), the scale tips towards making the trek and paying her a visit. But my daughter works daily and is established with her friends and community. I’ve seen most of the historic and tourist sites within Israel. I cannot sit idly in the hotel awaiting the next lavish breakfast. What shall I do with my time?
And then it hits me… had I not over the years thought of joining a volunteer program? To give a voyage a sense of purpose, to make free time an opportunity for giving? To turn the screw from a relaxing or sightseeing experience and of benefit only to myself; to one of being of service and value to others. A quick internet search takes me to Sar-El and Volunteers For Israel, leading organizations in providing volunteer programs on an army base in Israel.
My wife Deanna is ‘on-board’, and the wheels move quickly to apply and get through the approval process. The literature and representatives try to educate us about the realities that await and otherwise persuade us from not going. This vetting appears necessary to give low expectations and otherwise ensure we are motivated with a proper purpose. We leave with a sense of adventure, with no expectations, not knowing where we will serve, or what we shall be doing. There is also the skeptical side of me… is this a program with an ulterior purpose? Was this simply another way for the tourism bureaucrats to promote Israel? The answers would come…. .
And away we go…. landing at Ben Gurion Airport… walking out of baggage claim and into the expansive terminal … and there, there to one side of the terminal is a large gathering, some wearing Sar-El shirts or hats. We clearly identify this as our immediate destination. Despite the effects of the long journey, a sense of relief and joy comes over me, knowing now that this is an established organized program, with many others arriving from throughout the world to participate. We are of varying ages and religious beliefs. We are of a common mind-set… to be of assistance to others, to Israel. This is great!
Over the next few hours we are divided up into smaller groups of about a dozen, introduced to our ‘mad-ra-ha’ and whisked off in a bus towards our destination, an army base somewhere in Israel. From the outset, I sense that our ma-dra-ha, a soldier who is assigned to the group to guide us for the next two weeks, is a special chap. His name is Jonathan, and even at his young 20 years of age, posses the intelligence, skills and spark to lead a group of twelve who are each more than twice his age.
Over the next two weeks, members of our group bond. We live and volunteer our time on base. We have two days a week off-base to visit Israel, friends or family. Our efforts on base focus on assisting with the reconditioning of communications equipment, such as speakers and antennas.
We experience life on the base. It is not lavish by any means. We are bunked in rudimentary barracks, four to a room, on cots, men and woman apart. The bathroom facilities are a brief walk away. No one complains.
We live among and provide service with the soldiers of the IDF. They are a young energetic lot, and reflect the diversity of Israel, coming themselves as, or as children of, immigrants.
My voyage and participation has invoked strong feelings of both of fulfillment and enlightenment.
Just as we express our appreciation to those that serve in the IDF, we are in turn appreciated. Our presence imports a sense of ‘You Do Not Stand Alone’ to the soldiers. And, in some small way, the tasks we are assigned are tangible service to the Country. This provides me a selfish sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. This was, after all, to be a trip for the soul, and it has exceeded my expectations. I do not know if I will ever be able to travel again without a meaningful purpose.
On the other hand, my eyes have opened to Israel’s reality. There are those that say, when Israel is confronted by hostility, “Oh, don’t worry, they can take care of themselves.”
THIS IS NOT A GIVEN.
What I have failed to mention thus far is the condition of this base. Although I am told this may not the case on other bases, at this locale buildings are for the most part old and dilapidated. There is debris, trash and abandoned equipment everywhere. I cannot help but believe that this is a result of limited funds or resources for infrastructure and maintenance. You would never see this kind of condition on a US base. Teams of volunteers could be devoted for clean up and maintenance without making much of a dent. Clearly, they want or need our volunteer services for higher priority tasks. This program is not merely about enhancing public relations or tourism. There is a need.
I cannot understate the reality of need for support in Israel from the world, from you. Israel’s survival requires all of our involvement, no matter what form it may take. Our support can come from a myriad of efforts … donations, investments, tourism, writing to our elected representatives, local participation in supportive programs, and, yes, volunteering in Israel.
Please don’t miss an opportunity to help others. To help Israel. It will be a benefit to your soul and have a direct impact on improving the lives of others.