My husband and I first heard of the Sar-El program a few years ago, and had gone to an inspiring information session in Montreal. We knew then we would be participating in this adventure at some point in the future. Last summer, my husband retired (I had retired a few years ago), and we began to talk about Sar-El again. Soon after, friends of ours also mentioned they were thinking of doing the program at the end of May, 2018, and our plans became more concrete.
On Sunday May 27, we met our group and were brought to a Medical Supply base, near xxxxx. We had signed up for 2 weeks, as this was our first time, and we did not know what to expect. What an incredible 2 weeks it was. We were a group of 25, mostly American and Canadian, but with a few from other countries which made the experience even richer. The women were brought upstairs to our rooms, and the men were downstairs. The rooms were bright and clean, and roomy enough. My roommate was a lovely woman from NY, and we got along very well. My 2 friends from Montreal were in the room across the hall. Many of the participants were repeaters, and were able to guide us “newbies” through the ins and outs of settling in. Where were the bathrooms and showers, fridge and washing machine. Our first lunch in the “cheder ochel” or dining room, was surprisingly tasty and abundant. We had a chance to pick up our uniforms (pants, shirt and belt) and were told to report to work at one of the many warehouses on the base. As there was a shortage of smaller size pants, it took me a couple of days to complete my uniform. We worked that afternoon in a large warehouse, packing medical supplies in bags. Besides our group, there was a group of retirees originally from France, who now live in Ashkelon, and come daily to the base, to volunteer their services. They were a very lively group, full of energy, and very excited to meet Quebecers who spoke French.
The next day, some of us moved to other warehouses, and I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work in a smaller warehouse with my 2 friends, and our supervisor, Yisrael. We were very happy to work with him, and loved every minute. He would repeatedly tell us how much he appreciated our help, and would remind us to stay hydrated. The work was physically demanding and exhausting, as we were packing medic bags, that weighed about 70-80 kgs when full. We had to carefully and precisely count every item that went in to each pocket in the bags, and no mistakes were tolerated. These bags were used both in Israel and in other countries, by medics, and held enough supplies to meet any medical need. They could be considered mini emergency rooms or even operating rooms. They have been used in countries all over the world, whenever Israel is asked to help out. Right now, as I write this, there are probably medics and our bags in Thailand assisting in the recovery of the boys caught in the cave. Even though the work was demanding and exhausting, it was so rewarding to know we were doing something meaningful and important. We knew that the bags we were packing could ultimately help to save lives. My husband worked in another warehouse, where they were packing surgical instruments in sealed bags that were then sterilized. This was also exacting work, but they were able to work sitting down…
Our daily schedule was to get up and be at breakfast early enough to then attend flag pole every morning at 7:45. At flag pole, after raising the flag, we sang Hatikvah, and then we were given highlights of the news of the day, sports, weather, and any other relevant information. We worked from 8am to until 4 pm, with a one hour lunch break at noon. We were free until dinner at 6. Every evening from 7-8 pm we had an evening activity. These programs varied from learning about the various sections of the Israeli Armed forces and what each one does, to presentations by people from outside, to playing games. Our madrichot were 2 lovely women soldiers, one age 19 from the US, is a “lone soldier”, just starting her tour, and the other is an Israeli who will be finishing her tour in a couple of months. They were both very available, helpful, and fun.
Our work week on the base went from Sunday to Thursday afternoon, when we were brought back to Tel Aviv, to spend the weekend on our own. We chose to stay in bnb’s which we had booked in advance. They were both very close to the beach and we really enjoyed their central locations and our free time. Others chose to either stay at the hostel Sar-El offers, or one of the hotels which discounts for Sar-El participants.
Overall, this was an amazing experience for all of us. We felt so appreciated, and welcomed, and loved every minute. We are all planning to return and have been telling our friends about the program, hoping to encourage others to join us next time. Even though my husband and I, and our friends who were with us, had all been to Israel before, this was a totally different experience for us. We all have strong feelings for Israel, and love to visit, and to give what we can monetarily. However, this time we were able to give in a very different and meaningful way.
Todah and lahitraot.