Behind the Headlines 1000 American Volunteers in Israel Since War in Lebanon

By the end of this week, a total of 1,000 volunteers from the United States will have come here since last summer to offer their services to the State of Israel. The volunteers, who provide one month of service, are part of a project called “Volunteers for Israel,” which was born out of the need for manpower during the war in Lebanon.

The “Citizen Volunteers,” as they are called, to differentiate them from their Israeli co-workers who are fulfilling reserve duty, work on army bases, at agricultural settlements and in factories. A national council, consisting of Knesset members of all parities and political views, which is responsible for the project, decides where the greatest need for workers exists and makes arrangements for the groups.

The council, headed by Gen. (Res.) Ahron Davidey, also finds families for the volunteers to visit on the Sabbath and organizes tours during their month-long service.

Although there have been instances where volunteers were needed to fill in at private food companies and at agricultural settlements, most are sent to army bases because the army requires the largest numbers of civilian volunteers.

During their month of service, which is comparable to the term normally served by Israeli reservists, the Americans are in uniform, while on the bases and live on the bases. While they are not considered to be “in the army,” and are insured as volunteers, according to U.S. law, they work alongside Israelis doing the same jobs.

“They are not pushed as hard as the soldiers are,” said one reserve soldier. “However they are really productive and serious about the work. “

Col. Heil Selah, an officer at one of the volunteer posts commented, “They work as seriously as those in reserve. Often one volunteer matches the output of three soldiers.”

VOLUNTEERS ENJOY OPPORTUNITY

The volunteers expressed satisfaction with the opportunity to serve Israel. One couple in their fifties, from New York, Edith and Sy Gross said, “It’s a privilege to be here. Israel is doing us a favor by letting us help out and we are really accomplishing something.”

Micki Keno from Brookline, Mass, said that this has been the best experience in Israel. It is her third trip and she says, “I’ve come to know something genuine about Israel since the army has such a major role in Israel.”

Volunteer chores range from assembling and sorting parts of tanks to cleaning weapons, folding blankets and rolling sleeping bags. Rickey Cherner, a mother and grandmother from Washington, D.C. said she was happy to be working. “I wanted to do more than send money,” she said.

Though the project was born out of the war effort in Lebanon, it is being continued this year. According to Meir Indor, a reserve major and liaison to the volunteers, “there are only three million Jews in Israel. There is no reasons why we cannot count on the Jews in the diaspora to widen our pool of manpower. During emergency situations as well as during peacetime, we have to maintain our connection with Jews all over the world.”

OBLIGATION FOR DIASPORA JEWS

Indor explained the Israeli philosophy that if everyone in Israel has to fulfill one month of reserve duty each year there is no reasons why this obligation should not touch Jews outside Israel.

The organization, Volunteers for Israel, is located in New York City. It was founded by past volunteers, and is chaired by Florence Cohen. The office passes out leaflets around the city, puts up posters, recruits volunteers and sends out press releases about the project, all on a voluntary basis. This July 20 more people are scheduled to come to help out in Israel.

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