More Australian volunteers are needed to work in uniform on Israeli military bases.
Sar-El, the National Project for Volunteers for Israel, allows volunteers worldwide to assist directly on IDF bases, engaging in non-combat tasks to free up soldiers for essential military duties.
An Australian representative for Sar-El, Tammy Graeve, said the volunteers wear uniforms and do logistical support tasks like sorting medical supplies, packing parachutes and distributing snacks, but they are not soldiers.
The program accepts volunteers of various nationalities and backgrounds, not exclusively Jewish.
Due to COVID-19, there has been a gap in volunteering from Australia, and current numbers are estimated to be just over 200 a year.
However, Graeve indicated there is a need for more assistance, with Sar-El actively seeking volunteers given the current challenges Israel faces.
“We’re crying out for help,” she said.
Grave said the current war in Gaza has seen an increase in the number of people interested in volunteering via email, but they want even more.
Sydney resident Danny Hochberg recently returned from doing the Sar-El program, saying he wanted to do more while the war was on.
“I was involved with organising the initial response to the October 7 massacre in our community, but decided that that wasn’t enough for me – I needed to actually be on the ground and doing something to help the people of Israel,” he said.
He said with the current war, the bases are all full of soldiers, but he was lucky enough to find a place with 25 volunteers at Tel Hashomer in the centre of the country.
“I served for two weeks with a group mainly from the United States, most of them Jewish, but not all. So there were some lovers of Israel that were also participating in the program,” Hochberg said.
Volunteers typically commit to one to three weeks, with the option to stay longer. They undergo a structured program, beginning their days with the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah, and receiving assignments in teams.
All volunteers need to pay for is their airfare.
Sar-El takes a diverse range of people, from young adults to retirees, and non-Jewish individuals, particularly Christians, who express a deep fascination with Israel.
“There’s the younger [people doing the] Birthright program … which I think is beautiful. But then there’s a lot of people who have retired; they’ve got more time, but … you have an influx of from 18 to 70-year-olds who are just wanting to give their souls and their heart to Israel in some way,” Graeve said. Applications are carefully reviewed in Israel to ensure the suitability and security of volunteers.
Hochberg said, “On Tel Hashomer we were based near the medical warehouses, and what we would do is pack supplies, which would go to the frontline for medical purposes for the troops. One of the more emotional things that I did was to pack ceramic plates into protective vests for the soldiers to protect them from bullets.”
He said that the response Israelis to the Sar-El volunteers is extremely positive.
“There are no tourists in Israel and there’s very few people volunteering, so Israelis are very appreciative of any contribution you make. Actually going out and volunteering and being productive is … satisfying, rewarding and also important to Israelis – they can never thank you enough,” Hochberg said.
More info: sar-el.org