Volunteers eager to give back to Israel

Louise C. Rosenberg volunteers on an IDF base/ContributedWEST HARTFORD – Israel is Louise C. Rosenberg’s second home. As a Sar-El volunteer, she’s traveled there three times since 2007, doing whatever she can to help lighten the load for Israeli soldiers.

“For every volunteer that comes, we take the place of a reservist who can be doing something more related to what they’ve been trained or selected to do,” she said.

Sar-El is an international volunteer program of the Israeli Defense Forces. Each year the program brings about 5,000 volunteers to IDF bases to work on miscellaneous projects.

In May, Rosenberg and her friend, Renee Neikrie, traveled with Sar-El, where they spent two weeks packing and unpacking medic backpacks.

Rosenberg, an adjunct instructor at the University of Hartford, organized wrenches on her first trip and said other volunteers might spend their time sorting packages, painting, stocking shelves or doing other odd jobs.

“Where the need is, the people go,” she said, adding that in Israel men have to serve in the IDF for three years after they turn 18 years old and women have to serve two years.

Volunteers are issued uniforms similar to the soldiers, and are assigned to barracks, where they sleep Sunday through Thursdays (because of the Sabbath, Friday and Saturday are considered the weekend). Neikrie, of Avon, explained that the volunteers work a full workday, eat lunch with soldiers and spend time in the evenings socializing or learning more about the country.  On Fridays and Saturdays the volunteers don’t sleep on the base, and instead get to use their free time to explore Israel.

It’s not a cheap trip. Volunteers pay for their own expenses, but Rosenberg said it’s worth the cost.

“In Hebrew it’s doing a Mitzvah, or doing a good deed, but I think it’s more than that,” she said. “It’s a way to give back.”

Neikrie, who volunteered this year for the first time at age 79, said working with Sar-El made her feel “wonderful.”

“It makes you feel like you’ve relieved a soldier to something else, and that you are giving of yourself to help others,” she said.

Both women are active members of The Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford and plan to go back next year and are spending their time back home in Connecticut to educate others about the program.

Vade Bolton, national president of Volunteers for Israel, said it’s not uncommon for volunteers to travel to Israel year after year.

“It’s a unique experience,” he said. “It’s a way to connect to the land of Israel.”

VFI is the U.S. branch of Sar-El and is headquarted in the D.C. area.

He said that although many volunteers are Jewish, Sar-El is not a religious organization.

However, as a Jew, he said having a heart for Israel is only natural.

“Jews typically have a long standing interest and love for Israel,” Bolton said. “The importance of Israel in our lives continues to draw us there and continues to be a passion.”

For information on how to volunteer with VFI visit the organizations website, or e-mail Bolton at vadebolton@comcast.net or Rosenberg lcr323@comcast.net.

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