It was on a UJA Walk With Israel last summer that I first heard about Sar-El. My cousin’s wife and I had been swapping travel stories- She was telling me about her travels through France and I was telling her about my recent tour of Israel that had been a long-anticipated retirement gift to myself. I expressed my desire to visit Israel again, but without the traditional tour experience.
That was when she told me about her mother’s involvement with Sar-El. It sounded like exactly what I had been looking for —time in Israel, plus the ability to support the country in a meaningful and tangible way while allowing me the time and flexibility to explore the country on my own. That was when my investigations began.
After searching Sar-El on the internet, watching related YouTube videos and reading reviews, it seemed ideal. I would be able to choose my date and length of stay- from one to three weeks. In return for my labour on an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) base I would be provided with room, board, a uniform, educational experiences, as well as the opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals from around the world and of varying ages.
It was at this point that I made contact with Vera at Canada’s National Sar-El office, based in Toronto. She proceeded to send me contact information for the local area rep. in order to arrange for a face-to-face interview. After receiving approval from him I completed the online application form, passed a physical from my family physician, then eagerly awaited acceptance from Sar-El in Israel.
Upon receiving confirmation of acceptance, all further communications with Sar-El Canada staff were helpful and timely. This was reassuring for an inexperienced traveler like myself. I decided on the two-week option. What I actually experienced surpassed my expectations. Shortly before my start date I received a meeting point, a packing list as well as a schedule of volunteer dates and time on my own. I was able to pre-plan my stay in Israel, taking advantage of new sights and destinations as well as allowing me the opportunity to revisit adventures from the previous year.
We met at the predetermined location at Ben Gurion Airport where we were introduced to our Madrichah, the soldier who was responsible for our group for the coming week. From there we were bussed to our designated army base. Women and men were housed in barracks on separate floors where we shared a room with two or three others from our group. After an initial orientation, we settled in for work the next day. During the two weeks that I spent with the program, we volunteers completed tasks ranging from sorting and filling ration bags, rewiring combat helmets, organizing and loading skids, packing medical supplies, and more.
Working next to my fellow volunteers led to wonderful new experiences and challenges and a strong sense of comradeship. Each week we met a new group of people from diverse backgrounds, making friends and creating a bond as we all worked towards a similar goal while fulfilling our own personal hopes and goals in the process. “Would you do it again?”, I was asked. Without hesitation, my answer is, “Yes.”
Ruth McCrae is a retired teacher, living in Burlington. For more information, visit sarelcanada.org or call Gord Garshowitz at 905-906-6900.