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Shiri with other Sar-El volunteers and Israeli soldiers on their base

Shiri and Baillie Shuster,her friend from Winnipeg and also my Sar El Madricha

Shiri Berkowitz: Going On Sar-El in Israel: Reflections of a Next Generation Jew

by Shiri Berkowitz, posted October 1, 2015

Sar-El was one of the most life changing experiences I have ever had. Prior to travelling to Israel for Sar-El, I had been to the country three times; for my bat mitzvah, through March of the Living and through Gray Academy’s Partnership Together program. Even though I had such a strong connection to the country, I had never heard of the program until just a year before I went. 


A close friend of mine from Winnipeg drafted into the Israeli army and became a Sar-El Madricha in 2013. Every so often I would hear stories about the program and her life in Israel. It quickly became evident to me that though I knew I did not want to go into the army, I wanted to have a better understanding of what several of my friends who are in the army, were and are experiencing on a daily basis.


I spent two weeks in Israel prior to the start of Sar-El, visiting family and friends and touring the country. When it was time for the program to start I met with my fellow volunteers at the Tel Aviv airport and was pleasantly surprised to find out my friend was in fact going to be one of my Madrichot. We quickly all grouped up, hopped onto the bus for our long bus ride to Bahad 1, just south of Be’er Sheva. Our madrichot informed us that this was a very special base, as it was an officer training base.


Throughout the two weeks spent on the base I was able to get such a better idea of what being in the army is really like. Being a North American volunteer on an Israeli army base, we were constantly questioned as to why we were choosing to be there. The soldiers were so thankful that we were there to assist them in whatever tasks we were given.


From day one we were working among the soldiers. Our jobs started off easy; painting shipment boxes, testing out radios, or simply just tying up telephone cords. As the two weeks went on, our jobs got tougher and tougher, especially as the war started in Israel. We became more useful during those times, as things needed to be done faster. This made the experience so much more real for me. Seeing the soldiers worry about their friends, worrying about their family brought everything to life.


Not only did Sar-El open my eyes to the reality of life as an Israeli soldier, but it connected me with seven other Jewish youth from all over the world, who I have stayed in touch with over the last year.


As a year has now passed since my Sar-El experience, I thought it had truly come to an end, until just two weeks ago I heard from one of my friends who just drafted into the army this spring, that she too has become a Madricha for the program. Who knows what the future holds, but maybe I will just have to embark on the experience one more time. 

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