Home Featured Stories David T. Kalman – A Volunteer for Israel

David T. Kalman – A Volunteer for Israel

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David T. Kalman volunteered for two weeks in late December in Israel.

By Skip Kozakewicz, Reflector Editor

Richmonder David T. Kalman had always wanted to volunteer in Israel with Sar-El, the National Project for Volunteers for Israel founded in 1982.

On October 7, he could not get to Israel fast enough. While he had to wait nearly two months, he was among thousands who stepped forward immediately to volunteer with Sar-El – the Hebrew acronym “Service to Israel.”

After acceptance into the program, he volunteering during the last two weeks of December on four IDF bases working on production lines with several hundred volunteers. He helped pack boxes of supplemental food items and often boxes with Shabbos candy bags from early in the morning to often around 5 p.m.

David explained, “Being there was a very satisfying and amazing experience …  and rewarding and fulfilling for me. I was able to provide hands-on physical work …  giving practical support for IDF soldiers. I can say it was a lot different than working in my Richmond real estate office.

“It was always in my head to volunteer with Sar-El,” David noted. “My younger brother did it about 30 years ago. I made five previous visits to Israel. My first was with USY in high school and I went on a backpacking trip at age 19 with a friend, several Federation Missions and a Hadassah trip.”

He added, “This past summer, I was looking at going in November anyway as a kind of different vacation. On October 7, I had to go immediately.”

Not unexpectedly, David had to get at the back of the line when he contacted  Sar-El.

“When I called,” he explained, “I was told I could not go until end of December since there were many volunteers in the pipeline ahead of me. They were swamped in a good way but now in an operational challenge.”

David went ahead and completed the detailed online application, including  obtaining letters from two community leaders recommending him. He would have an eventual phone interview of about 40 minutes with a Sar-El representative.

He met all the qualifications and traveled to Israel – spending two weeks volunteering with 300 volunteers the first week and about 250 the second week.

“It was frontline physical work – down and dirty – working  in the large warehouses on the bases. For me, and the group of about 80 that I was assigned to be with, we packed supplemental food boxes and also Shabbos candles from Sunday to lunch on Thursday,” he said.

 

One of the large production lines on an I.D.F. base with volunteers filling boxes.

 

One day his group filled 8,000 supplemental food boxes on the long production line. Each box feeds four. Another day, 78 pallets were shipped to the IDF in Gaza. “The shipments go out overnight and are in the hands of the IDF the next day.”

The volunteers are not in the IDF, David wanted readers to understand. “We are strictly  civilians volunteering on IDF military bases under the authority of IDF Logistics.”

In an ordinary week before the war, the non-profit Sar-El organization would have about 40 volunteers a week.  “So, with now 300 volunteers a week, they took on many new expenses after Oct. 7. Normally, Sar-El estimates each volunteer costs  $150 week. After Oct. 7, their costs multiplied.”

As noted on its website, “Since its inception and up through the end of 2018, the Sar-El volunteer project has brought in over 160,000 volunteers, providing broad logistical support to the I.D.F. throughout the country. A number of its Jewish volunteers have since made Aliyah and have become Israeli citizens.”

Volunteers are usually housed on IDF bases but since Oct. 7, they are put up in hotels from Sunday through Wednesday nights all paid by Sar-El.

They were bused round-trip each of the volunteer days and provided lunch on the bases. Volunteers pay their own hotel and meal expenses from Friday through Saturday nights. Also, airline flights and other expenses such as meals on off-days.

David said he was in one small workgroup, or pod, for his two weeks with five others. “We got to know each other well and became immediate friends.” All were from around the U.S. He said the larger group of 300 his first week had people from 20 different countries. While a majority were Jewish, there were non-Jews as well.

 

 

David with his group who were together for two weeks volunteering on four IDF bases.

He is especially pleased he was able to meet with many IDF soldiers and officers.  In his second week, the volunteer group of 250 was assigned to an IDF Air Force Base near Beersheba where there also were soldiers there coming off the front lines from Gaza for some R&R.

“We had lunch with them and sat with all ranks, including officers who were along side their soldiers. Some first thought we were paid guest workers, but when they learned we were all volunteers, they were astounded and thanked us many times.”

In addition, a group – Mothers of Lone Soldiers – volunteered one day along side Sar-El volunteers. This included Richmonder Amy Ackman Goel who has three lone soldiers and who was interviewed by i24 news that day.

“I love them all …. They are all my children,” she notes fighting back tears.

 

To view the video posted on You Tube, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjpRyDD2-KA

As readers can see, Sar-El volunteers are all ages – men and women, who often volunteer multiple weeks and years. One senior woman, age 82, has volunteered for 18 years. A man in his group of six was in his 7th week and planned to go back in April.

“I hope to go back in April or May,” David said.

For more on Sar-El, including how to volunteer or contribute, visit www.sar-el.org/.