Monday, January 25, 2010

Tzvi of Sar-El: “I Am Proud of the Work I Do”

I first came to Israel in the winter of 1983 on the Sar-El (Volunteers for Israel) program, through which people from abroad come to Israel for three weeks in order to work on army bases, in hospitals, and on archaeological digs, to name just several options. (Read about how Sar-El was founded here.) Today, women soldiers undergo an intensive seven-week training course in order to become Sar-El group leaders. But back then, only a year after Sar-El’s inception, no such training program existed in the IDF, as least as far as I know. Tzvi (not his real name), the man in charge of the volunteers on the army base where I worked, was a career soldier of many years’ standing who had fought in several of Israel’s wars. He had immigrated to Israel as a child together with his family and grown up here during the state’s early decades. His knowledge, leadership skill and devotion to the groups in his charge quickly earned him legendary status in the program. Mention his name, or the name of the base where he worked, today among current and former Sar-El volunteers of a certain age—and their eyes will light up and the stories will pour out joyously, like streams in the Judean desert after rain.

As part of the program, volunteer groups went on trips once a week. As we rode the bus to our destination, Tzvi—who is not religiously observant but is nevertheless a proud, devoted and knowledgeable Jewish man—gave us divrei Torah—talks on the weekly Torah portion—that reflected his love for Israel and the importance of living here. So it is hardly surprising that he is responsible for several hundred aliyot, including mine.

Tzvi, who is still connected with Sar-El (though, as far as I know, not as a group leader these days), is still in touch with many of his former volunteers by email. A few days ago, he sent us a brief note that contained the following links:

ABC News report about the Israeli medical delegation to Haiti

Jewish Life TV report about the Israeli medical delegation to Haiti

CNN report about the Israeli medical delegation to Haiti

With his characteristic succinctness, Tzvi wrote only the following by way of explanation:

“This is the immediate result of the Sar-El volunteers’ work at the Matzrap base. I am proud of the work I do.”

That was it. No elaboration. Since Tzvi is modest, I knew that if I wanted more information, I was going to have to ask for it.

So I did. What does Sar-El have to do with the medical delegation in Haiti? And what on earth is the Matzrap army base?

Here, with some minor edits, is Tzvi’s reply:

“The name Matzrap is an acronym for Merkaz Tziud Refui—Central Medical Supply. The volunteers there work mainly on sorting medicines of all kinds for the IDF to be used in case of war by medics and doctors on the battlefield, but also for humanitarian causes (such as tsunamis, earthquakes and floods all over the world). The supplies prepared by the Sar-El volunteers are packed and used for situations like these. The Israeli medical delegations have saved many lives in many countries which suffered from disasters like the one in Haiti.

“This base has priority over all other bases when it comes to receiving volunteers. Because of the importance of the work that is done there, it would receive volunteers even if we had only one group.”

So Sar-El volunteers had packed the medicines that were flown to Haiti. Incredible.

I can only shake my head in awe... and wish that I, too, had worked on the Matzrap base during my volunteer days.

(A note to fellow Sar-El volunteers: if you know Tzvi’s true identity, please don’t reveal it here.)

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