Wednesday, 14 December 2011

My Sar El volunteer experience in Israel, November 2011

November 2011, Volunteer with Sar El

This was my fourth visit to Israel in 3 years! I was drawn to Israel to volunteer, did for 2 weeks, and went solo!!  Always in life there is a first time for this or that, isn’t there?   But there is always some company along the way, starting with the air flight.   Met and chatted with people on a pilgrimage to Israel or visiting relatives in Italy (flight was Alitalia with stop over in Rome).  Returning home, it was similar, some people interested of where I was going or been and doing what.  A couple of ladies were interested in the volunteering and we exchanged email addresses.

On arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, the program co-ordinator provided me with a sticker that had the army base name and number, which was near BeerSheva.  I was fortunate there were other two ladies who arrived in the afternoon, we became roommates at the base.  Majority of our group was made up of Americans, others were Italian, Swiss, British, French, me and another Canadian.. A group of Jews and Gentiles.  Our base was the logistic centre, where they maintained and serviced trucks and other transport vehicles, including storage for the reserves’ equipment.

Our FantasticTeam

Morning Flag raising ceremony was mandatory. Volunteers got to raise the flag alongside a soldier. Daily we were divided into groups to whatever tasks was scheduled for that day.  I volunteered to do kitchen duty on the first day.  It was easy peasy, mop the floor, wipe the plastic chairs, set up the table, slice bread, other cleaning as requested, all before lunch.  After lunch, clean the tables, mop the floor, put away cleaned plastic mugs, and was told to take the afternoon break until half hour before dinner!  This soldier was very kind, he didn’t let us help in chopping veggies.  The second week’s soldier let the volunteers do quite a bit more J   I learned one does not mix utensils – blue for dairy products (breakfast and dinner), red and white for meats (lunch). Neutral items would be glass, plastic and paper.  Meals were good, I ate a lot of fresh veggies and I love eggs.

Work week is Sunday to Thursday.  Tasks were:-  sort the truck tie downs (heavy duty tarp rope with mechanical locks) and check the locks, if in working conditions roll the rope, tie together, and plastic bag 5 such units together.  At another warehouse, place different tools in containers as a kit for each truck. Outside where the trucks were lined up, check tool cabinet, remove anything in them and place in front of truck for pick up.  Another day, paint the tool containers and tie labels to them.  Check fire extinguisher dates, sort by dates, clean them to re-label with new dates.  Other volunteers did other tasks needed in the different storage warehouses, eg, check reserves’ duffel bags were a complete set, clean warehouses to make room for more stuff, build new shelves, paint, etc.  We would finish our work sooner and wait for the next assignment. We used the wait time sunning ourselves. J  So, it was a relaxed work environment. J

After dinner we had a get together.  At these meetings we learned, well, first evening was a welcoming by a commander, explaining about the work of the base, second evening was going through volunteer rules and regulations, again (already heard at airport). We learned Hebrew alphabets and numbers, and some words using English sentences that had words that phonetically sounded Hebrew, would be paired to what that word was, which was really neat.  (Didn’t take any notes in these meetings, da!).  In another session we learned about the history of the flag, coat of arms, anthem (the Haktivah), and we got to do some exercises based on these 3 things!  Another evening we learned a little bit of the IDF, what unit the colour of the berets represented (later were quizzed by placing the colour with its corresponding logo), and the ranks of the soldier. Our madrichot kept us busy in these sessions.  We were always engaged in some activity on the theme of that evening.

During lunch breaks or returning from the ‘field’ (read ‘warehouse’ or ‘trailer’), or after dinner, there was time of interaction with the young soldiers.  I enjoyed discussions with them.  They were curious about me, openly talk about their future, honestly tell you what they feel, and tease each other a lot.  They are fun kids.  Some couldn’t believe I would pay my own fare, use my vacation to work at the base for free!  I was glad I took Ontario and Canadian pins with me.  They were a hit.  The young soldiers just loved them, especially the tiny Canadian flag pins.

Ontario's Flag & Trillium and Canada's Maple Leaf & Flag pins

For the Shabbat weekend (Friday to Saturday), we had to stay away from the base. My roommates and I chose to go to Jerusalem.  On Thursday after lunch, we were bus’ed to BeerSheva where one could take a train to Tel Aviv or bus to Jerusalem.  It was wonderful to meet other Sar El volunteers from another base.  One group came from South Africa, their first time to Israel.  They spent their Shabbat weekend in Jerusalem attending the different prayer towers.  How commendable.  They would tour Jerusalem at the end of their volunteer commitment.  Wished I had asked of their agenda, would love to attend those prayer towers.  They had an amazing time in one prayer tower with a round skylight, where while it was raining all around Jerusalem, their skylight showed blue sky and sun shine!  Wish I was there.

It was wonderful to be in Jerusalem again.  Brought back memories of this Spring’s trip.  From our hostel on Yafo, we were very close to Mahane Yehuda (open market), short walking distance to Old City, and on the way there, dropped in Ben Yehuda.  My roommate and I walked the Rampart Walls, only the northern part.  It rained a lot on Saturday, so for the afternoon we decided to head back to the hostel to chill out and dry ourselves before heading out again in the evening.  Pretty quiet except for the Old City. Sunday early morn we took the light rail train(free before Dec 1) on Yafo to the Central Bus Station to catch a bus to Tel Aviv to meet up with other volunteers and head to our base.  It was a sunny day !

Rampart Wall
The Kotel

We had a day trip (escorted, that is, with guns) on Tuesday of the second week.  We visited Ben Gurion University in BeerSheva first.  Got a guided tour by the PR who was from Richmond Hill, Ontario.  Stopped for lunch and shopping at Beer Sheva’s central shopping mall before heading to our next visit, Kibbutz Revivim.  This kibbutz was the earliest settler in the desert.  Got quite a history on agriculture, water reservoir and defending during the early war.  It is now a kibbutz with olive tree groves, .... in the desert! 

Kibbutz Water Project - to contain rain water
Olive groves in background

On our last day, worked the morning, then bus’ed to Jaffa at the Sar El hostel, where we could park our luggage, freeing us to visit Jaffa before heading for the airport. Thursday seem to be a favourable day for weddings.  Along the sea front promenade, we saw quite a lot of wedding parties on photo shoot.  It was a lovely afternoon, very quiet too, hardly any pilgrim group encountered!  After retrieving our luggage, we stood at a bus stop that would take us to the Central Train Station in Tel Aviv.  Well, different buses would pass and we wondered if our bus would come this way!  A bystander waiting for a bus offered to help us, saying we follow her as she was going the same way.  We sat together and it was a wonderful time of chat, about life and culture.  She told us where to get off, with the bus not going straight to the train station due to road diversion. The young fella sitting beside me offered to take us there, saying he was going that way.  It was already dark.  We engaged in conversation with him and learned about him.  I was glad he helped us as we both had no clue where we were. Streets look different at night. He also lugged my luggage!!  At the train station, we knew what platform to board, but which train?  The notice board didn’t have ‘Ben Gurion’, so look for passenger with luggage that does not board the train, we do likewise J.   Good thing, a commuter heard us talking and told us we could board with him on the train that would take us to Ben Gurion.  We sat together. He and his family had made aliyah from South Africa 3 years ago.  We learned a little bit more about life in Israel from his perspective.  I handed him a couple of our Canadian flag pins for his kids, before getting off the train.
Jaffa promenade looking towards Tel Aviv
As much as I enjoyed the volunteering work, I enjoyed even more meeting the people and interacting with them.  Our madrichot were amazing.  For such young ladies, their leadership skills surpasses the adults’. The Base Commander’s letter to each of us, thanking us, was a lovely and heartfelt letter. For our service with Sar El, we received a Sar El certificate, Sar El hat, Sar El pin, Sar El t-shirt and the blue insignias (in Hebrew “Mitnadev Sar-El” or "Sar-El Volunteer”, worn on the shoulders). The experience was worth it, and we had in our group, repeaters with 18, 8, 4, 2 times on volunteer duties.  I hope to return.  If you are interested to know more, visit



  1. The more I follow you Han in all of your missions in the last 10 or so years, God's glory is revealed through you in the work represented here on earth - building His Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven!
    God's richest blessings for 2012!
    Ephisians 1: 18-23
    Trisha Smith

  2. Thanks much, Trisha, you are very kind and an encourager. I truly admire your perseverance in your cause. The Lord bless you immensely. Thanks for Ephesians 1:18-23 of which I share with you too and also Philippians 1:9-11.