You’re in the Army Now

December 17, 2010 by Henry Benjamin
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For a holiday in Israel with a difference, a Brisbane man is offering volunteer work  on an Israeli Army base…no military training necessary.

David Samson is the Australian representative of Sar-El an Israeli organisation which places non-Israelis in non-combative positions for up to three months in an Israeli army unit.

David Samson

The rules are simple, Participants pay their own fares to Israel and all they need bring with are sheets and a pillow… computers are not permitted on IDF bases. Like most Israeli soldiers, weekend leave is granted with volunteers obliged to make hotel arrangements…but travel to Egypt and Jordan is not allowed during the period of their army visit. The program uses madrichot [leaders] rather than officers to command the volunteers but the “holidaymakers” must take their places with regular IDF members at flag-raising and they are subject to all the military rules of the base to which they are assigned.

As for souvenirs of the trip, the army insists that uniforms and ID cards are returned on departure.

Here is how it works. The program is usually three weeka..eight hours a day for five days with Fridays and Saturdays off. The evenings on the bases offer educational programs and during the three week period two trips are organised.

For volunteers preferring to work in an army nursing home, the minimum period is four weeks…and the maximum age for nursing/retirement home volunteers is 65.

The minimum age for volunteers is 17 and there is no upper age limit providing participants enjoy good physical and mental health. The program is open to all eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return and for other supporters of Israel…but consideration to those who do not meet these requirements is on a case by case basis.

Avi Feldman, left, with Sar-El mates

Melbourne based Avi Feldman has participated in the program 21 times and has published his feelings on the Sar-El web site. This is what he had to say.

“After coming to Israel on a regular post football basis now for the last six years, one could ask: why do I continue to come?

  • Is it because Israel is such a good place to visit climate wise, history wise or simply because Israel is just so good?
  • Or is it because of renewing such old and good friendships or simply because of the new friendships that I inevitably make over here.
  • Or is it because of the Sar El program being so good, that I can’t wait to do it again?
  • Or is it because here I feel I am amongst family, one that is so rich in tradition and culture like  Shabbat, or festivals or is it the affinity I seem to so easily share with my family members that I am amongst here?

Well guys and gals, yes, I’m on a high again as all these reasons resonate through on this magic day called Shabbat! It starts off with buying  my flowers from my old Shvartz mate Elli who is proudly wearing his Australia hat today that I gave him last week. Then comes the customary phone calls to wish my family and friends all over the world including those in Israel a Shabbat Shalom. Then comes the customary afternoon shloof which one has to do to if one wants to enjoy Friday night. Then comes the usual ride to Effi’s but because he is with his family he can’t host me tonight, I join my other old Madrich of 45 years ago, Max and his three generation family.

So my friends, Shabbat truly brings home to me as to how lucky we all are in the 21st century to have this sensational homeland for all of us to be able to enjoy the before mentioned plusses in being here.

David Samson told J-Wire: “The program is open to all. I get many enquiries from Christian organisations. Since its 1982 launch, statistics were kept on a universal basis up until 2004, with more than 100,000 volunteers participating during that period of whom 6% ultimately made Aliyah. Since 2004, it has been on a country by country basis with Australia sending an average of 80 volunteers each year. Volunteers are met at the airport on arrival and transported to their base where they receive a standard army uniform bearing a blue epaulette with “Mitnadev Sar-El” embroidered on it….meaning Sar-El Volunteer.”

For more information contact Sar-El Australia

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