Sar-El (Hebrew: שר-אל) is a volunteer program of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Every year about 5,000 volunteers from overseas serve for two or three weeks with the IDF. Their job is neither paid nor armed and is mainly in the logistical, maintaining, catering, supply and medical services. Having volunteers do these jobs saves the army money and spares reserve soldiers from being called up. Volunteers must be at least 17 years old (15 if accompanied by a parent) and healthy. Sar-El is subordinate to the Logistics Corps.
The program was raised in the summer of 1982 by Brigadier (ret.) Dr. Aharon Davidi (former commander of the IDF Paratrooper and Infantry Corps), when due to the general mobilization during the 1982 Lebanon War in some kibbutzim at the Golan the harvest with crops already ripened was in danger, because all able-bodied farmers were on reserve duty in the IDF. Within a few weeks Davidi recruited some 650 volunteers to lend their support for Israel through volunteer labor on IDF bases, so the kibbuzniks could be sent to their fields. These first volunteers expressed their wish that this volunteer project should be perpetuated, and in the spring of 1983, "Sar-El - The National Project for Volunteers for Israel" was founded as a non-profit, non-political organization.
Today, Sar-El is represented in some 30 countries. During 2009 over 4,000 volunteers from all over the world traveled to Israel and served in the Sar-El program. Approximately 70% of the volunteers came from the U.S.A (Volunteers for Israel-VFI), France (Le Volontariat Civil en Israël-UPI), and Canada (Canadian Volunteers for Israel-CVI). The remainder came from virtually all over the world. The volunteer force was approximately 50% men and 50% women with the largest age segment being 25 and under.
The volunteers wear IDF work uniforms (fatigues) with blue Sar-El epaulettes, but they are not soldiers. For this reason their service usually does not conflict with the military laws of the volunteers' home countries.
Sar-El is the Hebrew acronym for Sheirut Le’Yisrael, meaning "Service to Israel".
- Army Fatigues: Joining Israel's Army of International Volunteers by Mark Werner
- The Volunteer Connection is VFI's national update and newsletter published quarterly since Fall, 2006
- VFI's Youtube channel has numerous videos contributed by volunteers and portrays various aspects of voluntering in Israel
- VFI's Facebook channel contains updated program information for VFI alumni and friends of VFI
- VFI's Twitter account has hundreds of timely tweets related to the VFI program
- Sar-El in Israel
- Volunteers for Israel in the U.S.A.
- Canadian Volunteers for Israel
- Le Volontariat Civil en Israël (Sar-El in France)
- Le Volontariat Civil en Israël-SAR-EL Belgique (Sar-El in Belgium)
- Stichting Sar-El Nederland (Sar-El in Netherlands)
- Sar-El Norge (Sar-El in Norway)
- Sar-El in Czech Republic
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