NEW YORK (Mar. 14)
Some 600 North Americans were scheduled to depart for Israel at midnight Monday to perform various chores for two weeks at Israeli military bases and hospitals–voluntarily.
“The fact that hundreds of volunteers are going to Israel now is a significant statement of solidarity with the people of Israel, precisely at a time when so many are criticizing and backing away from supporting the Jewish state,” said Sampson Giat of New York, president of Volunteers for Israel, which is sponsoring the under-taking.
According to Giat, this group of volunteers is the largest ever to go to Israel at one time. Four hundred sixty-one of them will fly aboard a chartered El Al jumbo jet, and 35 more people whom the jet cannot accommodate will travel on a regularly scheduled flight. Another 50 left Sunday night and 40 are to fly directly from Los Angeles.
Giat said at a news conference here Monday that his organization has sent some 8,000 volunteers to Israel from the United States over the past five years and more than 12,000 worldwide.
“This is our way of showing the Israeli people that we are with them all the way at this time of crisis,” said Alexander Goldberg of Hempstead, N.Y., a 75-year-old aeronautical engineer who will make his 14th visit to Israel as a volunteer. He was referring to the more than three months of Palestinian unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Mayor Saul Hornick of Marlboro Township, N.J., is bringing eight of his constituents with him to volunteer, including non-Jews and his 13-year-old son.
“This trip of volunteers to Israel is a statement that says we support the State of Israel as the greatest and single ally of the United States in the Middle East,” the mayor said.
Hornick told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he raised more than $75,000 in the last three weeks to help subsidize the trip. Each volunteer pays $275 as a contribution toward the cost of room and board and round-trip airfare. The volunteers raised $100,000 for the trip.
Florence Cohen, national coordinator of Volunteers for Israel, said the flight was oversubscribed within 72 hours of the announcement and marks the first time that the organization ever chartered a plane.
Cohen, a registered nurse, and Giat, a musician, are going, too, to take part in activities such as cleaning army latrines, repairing flat tires and typing orders. The group will return on March 30.