2016-05-11 / Voice at the Shore

Cantor Kulp: Help Israel by volunteering for Sar-El

Voice shore correspondent

Sar-El volunteers live communally and eat together in army base dining halls. Sar-El volunteers live communally and eat together in army base dining halls. “I do anything that helps Israel,” said Ed Kulp, retired cantor of Congregation Beth Judah in Ventnor. That’s why instead of taking a relaxing trip to Israel to visit his family earlier this year, Kulp spent two weeks living on an army base near Beersheba reconditioning equipment for eight hours each day as a volunteer for Sar-El.

“Sar-El” is the Hebrew acronym meaning “Service for Israel.” The organization offers volunteers from all over the world (aged 16 and over) opportunities to be of service to Israel, usually working on army bases. Volunteer duties range from food preparation or packing medical kits, to painting or doing simple mechanical repairs. Volunteers live communally, sleeping in bunk beds and eating simple but plentiful kosher meals served up in army base dining halls.

“In my opinion, volunteering in Israel is just another opportunity to show our support for Israel,” Kulp noted. “Volunteers help Israel by replacing people who are serving in the army and doing work for the military that might otherwise be done by paid workers. So why not consider being a volunteer for one, two or three weeks and fulfill an important mission?”

Volunteering on Sar-El “is a great opportunity to meet people and to see what Israel is doing,” he added, noting that volunteers had time to explore the country on weekends. Participants also get a window into the workings of the Israeli army and an opportunity to meet people who serve the IDF. “It’s fascinating and it’s fun,” said Kulp.

Although Sar-El volunteers are not allowed to leave their assigned workplace on weekdays, they can take part in educational programs on weekday evenings on a diversity of subjects such as the Hebrew language, Israel’s history, Jewish holidays and traditions, and social and political issues in Israel. Sar- El also hosts up to two sightseeing trips during its typical 3- week program, usually including a trip to Jerusalem.

For Kulp, who has family in Israel and visits frequently, the most interesting sights were on the base—starting with the volunteers themselves. This group included singles and couples, both Jewish and non-Jewish, from Ohio, Arizona, New York, Connecticut, Florida and Canada. Some volunteers were in Israel for the first time; others, like Kulp, had been there countless times. One couple from Canada had volunteered for Sar-El eleven times; Kulp himself has volunteered with Sar-El five times since 1990, when he first came to help during Desert Storm.

About half of the 25 volunteers worked together to recondition an assortment of weapons, tools and batteries. Most of those assigned to this work detail, including Kulp, were senior citizens. “Some people in our group were over 70,” noted Kulp. “Seniors are very reliable, and they have the time to volunteer. Some also have know-how and patience.”

There were plenty of young volunteers as well, he noted. “This is not a senior citizens’ trip. Some people were in their 30s, either changing careers or just wanting to do something for Israel.” According to Sar-El’s website, teens sometimes come with parents or grandparents and many 20-somethings come after attending a Taglit Birthright program.

Sar-El — a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization —started after the Galilee War in 1982. During that war, the Golan Heights settlements faced the disastrous prospect of losing their entire agricultural crop because those responsible for tending the crops were off fighting. In response, a former IDF officer living in the Golan Heights, Dr. Aharon Davidi (z”l), recruited 650 volunteers from the U.S. to tend the crops. The initiative worked out so well that Sar-El was formally established in 1983.

Sar-El now takes volunteers from more than 30 countries worldwide. Last year, the organization placed 3,469 volunteers, with most coming from France (1,219) and the U.S. (881). Volunteers pay for their own airfare, while Sar-El provides free room and board.

For information on how to become a Sar-El volunteer, contact Volunteers for Israel- USA at (866) 514-1948 or at info@vfi-usa.org, or go to vfiusa.org or sar-el.org.

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