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Students serve two weeks in the Israeli Defense Force

By Denebola
Published: September 2008

By Annie Orenstein

Vacation was not the word. The word was experience. For two weeks, the common goal of 40 strangers from around the world was to serve in 103 degree weather and volunteer in the Israeli army.

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), or Tsva HaHagana LeYisrael in Hebrew, was founded in 1948 after the state of Israel achieved independence. During the Galilee War, most of the able bodied soldiers were sent to the northern border on to fight which left no soldiers at the army bases to care for and package equipment and supplies. This led to the founding of Sar-El, a non-profit organization that brings people from all over the world with the opportunity to serve for Israel.

Sar-El’s primary goal is to help out the IDF by sending volunteers from across the world to army bases all throughout Israel to perform the important tasks of sending out military and medical equipment directly to the soldiers on the front lines of battle.

This is where I come in. My family and I were not told which base we were going to. Instead, we were told to meet at a specific ATM machine in a neighborhood of Tel Aviv. There, we were greeted by our madrichot, meaning group leaders that took us to the base of Matzrap, a medical supply base about 20 minutes north of Tel Aviv. When work started the next day, the first task was to be fitted in uniforms. Every Israeli soldier and volunteer must wear a uniform. Everyone had to wear uniforms of long shirts and long pants with sneakers all day from 6 am to 7 pm.Worse than the uniforms, was the food. The IDF is infamous for its awful food and that was soon confirmed. Breakfast and dinner consisted of bread, cucumber, and on occasion, protein.

Though the mandatory uniform was hard to cope with, come the second week, our whole group was getting used to it and the work that we were doing made us feel better and it kept our mind off the whole “lack of real food thing.

Our leader informed us that the medical packages we were putting together were going to Georgia, recently invaded by Russia. The supply packages consisted of everything from aspirin and adhesive bandages to vitamin C pills. We would use what we called “the assembly line to put the correct number of supplies into the packages and then send them down to the next person. After the supplies were put in, we would wrap up the packages, put them into boxes, and have the boxes taken out on the forklift, watching our hard work flown away to help the innocent victims of the Georgia bombing, courtesy of the IDF.

Serving in the IDF helped us better to understand the mandatory skills needed to take part in serving your country. Knowing your limits will help, but pushing those limits will help you become more of an asset to your group.  Though the first couple days of adjustment were rough, my time in the IDF taught me lessons about community and work ethic that no person can learn in the classroom. The experience pulled me out of my comfort zone and into a zone. In the words of our “madrachot, the experience is what really makes the individual.

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