(Published May 29, 2018)
If you had the chance to volunteer on an Israeli military base, would you do it? For JCC members Keith and Rita Pitzele, Michael Kleinman and Marcy Ekhaus, the answer was a resounding “Yes!” In late 2017, they and nine other North Americans traveled with Volunteers for Israel (in partnership with the Israeli organization Sar-El) to spend time on a base outside Tel Aviv.
While Ekhaus and the Pitzeles had been to Israel before, this was their first time participating in the Sar-El program. For Kleinman, however, it was a return trip—he’d volunteered with Sar-El five times previously. When asked why he continues to come back, Kleinman explained, “It’s personally enriching—definitely not touristy—and it’s a way for me to give back to Israel.”
Most of the trip participants were in their 50s–70s (with one 80-year-old!), but even so, the experience is definitely not for the faint of heart. Although the assigned work is generally routine maintenance (like tinkering with radios or packing supplies), in order to qualify for the program participants had to perform certain physical tasks, including lifting 20 pounds and walking one mile on an uneven surface.
Participants are religiously diverse. They wear fatigues and live on the base in gender-segregated barracks.
Wanna volunteer? To learn more about Volunteers for Israel and Sar-El, visit vfi-usa.org. To join Kleinman on his next Volunteers for Israel trip Oct 28-Nov 8, 2018, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Rest of the Story
(continued from Update magazine)
After completing their volunteer service on the military base, Keith and Rita Pitzele traveled north to visit the Western Galilee, a sister region to Indianapolis in the Partnership2Gether coalition. The Partnership, which Indianapolis has been a part of for close to two decades, encourages and allows Jews from all around the world to make face-to-face interpersonal connections.
Appreciation for Indianapolis is evident in the Western Galilee. Not only is there a mural by Indianapolis artist and Jewish community member Joani Rothenberg hanging in the lobby of Nahariya’s Western Galilee Hospital, but an anonymous Indianapolis-area woman recently donated funds to construct a bomb shelter for lone soldiers stationed near the Lebanon border, a gesture that was particularly moving for the Pitzeles after their Sar-El experience.
The importance of interreligious coexistence within the region is also emphasized. Akko, one of the biggest cities in the Western Galilee, is 50% Jewish and 50% Arab. Because the aforementioned hospital is the farthest north of its kind in Israel, they receive more patients from countries like Lebanon and Syria than any other Israeli medical facility. And in what might be the region’s most exciting diversity initiative, the Israel Tennis Center brings kids of all religions together to forge a bond through sport—and the Pitzeles reported that the center’s director wants to take things international by sending Israeli athletes to the U.S. for the Maccabi Games.
Both Sar-El and Partnership2Gether introduce aspects of Israeli life that the average visitor to Israel may never fully comprehend. By participating in these two programs, the Pitzeles gained a clearer understanding of Israeli culture and even made some new friends along the way. Can’t get much better than that.