You COULD just write a check. You COULD just attend an IDF-themed gala. OR you could pack your bags, fly to Israel, and work arm-in-arm with Israeli soldiers. Sweat with them, laugh with them, support their work with yours, tell them why you are there, and show them that you are also all-in in supporting the State of Israel. And when they look at you and ask, “You paid to be here? You paid to come and help?” you can smile and say “yes.”
WHY I CHOSE TO VOLUNTEER
I come from a long line of Zionists. My family made Aliyah when I was a little girl, but after a few years, we had no other choices but to move back to the states because of the lack of available jobs. Since then, I’ve spent my life dedicated to the State of Israel, visiting my grandmother there most summers, defending my country to people with false information, and rallying in support of it with family and friends. But something was always missing. I never got to be a soldier. We returned to the states before I got to serve.
I myself have done Volunteers for Israel (VFI) three times. Twice with my sister, and the last time with a VFI Plus Archaeology group from Gil Travel that I helped to lead. I have worked on a medical base, a communications base, and most recently, an air force base. I have fixed radios, packed medic backpacks, stood at attention with soldiers as fellow volunteers raised the Israeli flag each morning, and packed first-aid bags for Syrian children for Operation Good Neighbor. I have worked with volunteers ranging in age from 17 to 93. With people who are volunteering with VFI for the first time, and people who have volunteered for more than 20 years. With people from Germany, England, France, Canada, Russia, and the US. With teachers, doctors, army vets, engineers, first responders, and nuns.
You don’t have to be a certain age, have a certain job, practice a certain religion, or be from a certain country to help Israel in this way. You just have to have a love for the country, a strong spirit, and an even stronger desire to be with like-minded people who are donating their time to something bigger than themselves. You must want to be a part of that—to be a part of the family that is Volunteers for Israel and Sar El (VFI’s Israeli counterpart).
Throwing out expired bottles of atropine was never something I thought I’d do on a vacation. Nor was making sure that bullet-proof vests are in proper shape, that rations are organized, and that canteens aren’t broken. But, you see, if in the dead of night a medic pulls an expired bottle of atropine from his pack and administers it, someone could die. What might look like menial work, can actually be life-saving.
And if sleeping on army cots, walking outside to get to the bathroom at night, sweating in the heat of the sun, and wearing the same uniform every day covered in dust is what I need to do to help, then I will do it proudly. And I’ll make life-long friendships while I’m doing it. Because that never fails to happen. You should know you will leave with more family than you had when you got to Ben Gurion Airport and stood in a sea of strangers waiting to be assigned to a base.
DO THEY REALLY NEED US?
I’m sometimes asked if VFI was created simply to give volunteers random tasks so that they can feel good about themselves and their connection to Israel. Do they really need us? No, we aren’t there doing work that doesn’t matter. Yes, they really need us.
While we don’t always know how urgent or important some jobs may be, the IDF does, and we are there to work. Hard! Our most recent VFI Plus Archaeology tour worked tirelessly at an air force base cleaning out, sorting, organizing, and preparing gear in a structure that held a great deal of emergency-related items from uniforms and canteens to rations and bullet-proof vests. We made sure that all items were in good shape, in their proper locations, accounted for, and ready to be grabbed at a moment’s notice. This work most-definitely led to the efficiency of the air force’s response time in the events that followed only a few days later. This work was needed, and timely.
Some could see going on a VFI Plus trip as using up some of their valuable vacation time working instead of sitting at a café in Tel Aviv. But what you will come to realize, is that what you will gain from this experience is so much more than that, and will be remembered for so many more years than a regular vacation would be.
Having said that, with VFI Plus trips, you can do both!
VFI PLUS TOURS
We understand that travel can be scary and overwhelming for some people. That maybe you don’t have family in Israel, have never been, or are ready to take your first solo-travel adventure but don’t want to be completely solo.
Gil Travel and VFI have teamed up to offer all-inclusive VFI Plus programs. Volunteer on a base, work on an archaeological dig, travel off the beaten path, and take a meaningful journey. Give and receive. These trips give you a chance to tour Israel first-class. We take care of all arrangements from your volunteer assignment (on a preferred base) to transportation, hotels, private tours, admission fees, 95% of your meals, tips, and so much more. All you do is pack your bags and show up.
The two types of tours:
VFI PLUS ADVANCED (link): This 17-day program includes 9 days of volunteering on an IDF base plus 8 days of private, custom touring with a professional Israeli guide. The deluxe itinerary features unusual and off-the-beaten-path experiences. www.tinyurl.com/vfiplus26
VFI PLUS ARCHAEOLOGY (link): Awaken your inner Indiana Jones and get your hands dirty in the City of David on an active archaeological dig with professionals from Tel Aviv University and Israel Antiquities Authority. This 14-day, all-inclusive program combines 5 days of volunteer work on an IDF base, 5 days of work at the dig site, and 4 days of custom touring with your private guide. www.tinyurl.com/vfiplus27
Interested? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TO SUM IT UP
Volunteers who go on VFI Plus tours not only get to travel around Israel with a private tour guide and like-minded people, but also get to:
1) Help maintain the readiness of the IDF to defend Israel
2) Allow the IDF to allocate more of its scarce financial and manpower resources to essential military tasks
3) Boost morale within the IDF by showing support, having meaningful conversations with the soldiers, and working alongside them
Be on the other end of that check you once wrote. Many people can say they have visited Israel and even taken a tour. Not many can say they helped the Israeli army with their own two hands while living on a base.
Unfortunately, Israel must always be ready.
Fortunately, we can help.