For people who seek an immersive Israel experience that will make them a part of Israeli society, nothing is better than spending time in the IDF. Sar El, a volunteer program in the IDF, accomplishes this. The pandemic and travel restrictions have seriously cut back the number of participants but the need for their service in helping to protect Israel has not diminished one bit.
Sar El is, admittedly, not for everyone. The volunteers stay on IDF logistics and supply bases, performing work alongside or under the direction of Israeli soldiers with participants wearing IDF uniforms. The work is absolutely essential to the proper functioning of the IDF: such as packing food rations or medical kits, cleaning tanks, painting helmets, radio repairs, gas mask refurbishment, changing spare parts, gardening, or cleaning. The conditions are certainly far from those experienced in Israel’s fine hotels, more like summer camp than a vacation, what most tourists would consider spartan, but Sar El provides benefits unavailable on any tour. Bringing together volunteers of all ages and from all over the world, Sar El volunteers are immediate insiders, part of the IDF and part of Israeli society.
Sar-el is the National Project for Volunteers for Israel using the Hebrew acronym for “Service to Israel”. Founded in 1982 by the late Dr. Aharon Davidi, former head of the IDF Paratroopers and Infantry Corps, the organization’s original mission was to bring volunteers to Israel during the Galilee War to save crops in the Golan Heights when farmers were called up for active duty. The project has since evolved and, before the pandemic, brought between 4000 to 5000 volunteers from over 30 countries to IDF bases to perform tasks that are essential on any military base.
The program is open to non-Israeli citizens who wish to participate in a service program be aged 17 years or older (or 15 if accompanied by a parent). Volunteers participate in a three-week program that enables participants to volunteer and live with Israelis and volunteers from all over the world on IDF supply/logistics bases in Israel.