Werner, Mark. “A Passion For Israel: Adventures of a Sar-El Volunteer”, Gefen. 2020.
Volunteering to Serve
Mark Werner is a successful corporate lawyer who is now retired and living in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is also a man who finds volunteering as a way of life and we especially see this in his beautifully written memoir about the three weeks every year that he spends volunteering in the Israel Defense Forces. Werner is the son of Holocaust survivors and an ardent Zionist who found that the best way to show his love for the State of Israel was to become part of Sar-el, an organization that works with thousands of volunteers from all over the world to spend time as civilians on Israeli military bases thus allowing soldiers to do their military duties rather than being involved with the mundane duties of army life. Werner kept journals of his work with Sar-el from 2006-2019 and they are the basis of “A Passion for Israel”.
For those of you who have served in the military, you have some idea of what that entails. However, the Israeli army constantly faces the threat of war in a climate much unlike many others. If that is not enough, an American without knowledge of Hebrew has a lot to learn. I so identified with so much here even though my time with the IDF came not as a volunteer but part of my obligation as an Israeli citizen who actually served on the front lines during several wars and skirmishes. Every day becomes precious for those in the army since each day could bring about horrific results at any moment.
What a wonderful and personal read this is. Beautifully written in great detail, we get an accurate picture of army life written by a man who made the choice to serve. It is also proof that many American Jews honor their commitment to the Jewish state voluntarily by giving of themselves to help defend the land.
I loved reading of Werner’s experiences of living during sandstorms, sleeping in bomb shelters, experiencing attacks from Palestinian missiles and getting used to a new way of life. Of course, three weeks is limiting but in a worn-torn country anything can happen and do so at a moment’s notice. While he was not on the front lines, when a military action takes place in Israel, everyone in the country feels it. Packing kitbags and medical supplies and the other necessities of army life are, in most cases, not exciting activities, they are necessary for the welfare of the entire nation and their importance cannot be under-estimated. The fact that Werner was part of this, along with filling sandbags and helping to get tanks ready, is heroic in my mind and because of him and others like him, the IDF is able to function smoothly.
Having been part of the Zionist movement from a young age, I knew that the time would come for me to go and live in Israel and I am very aware that many American Jews are unable to make such a commitment. Werner shows us that another way to make a difference is through Sar-el and his personal take on his life while doing so is quite a read. The stories are vivid and the prose is wonderful. He gives us a new look at life in the military in Israel as both an insider and an outsider. As I read, memories of the many years I spent in Israel and of the years I spent in the IDF came flooding back. Now re-settled back in the United States, I so needed this book to answer so many of my questions as to why I left this country at a time when Israel was still a baby and I found myself regretting what I left there. I cannot recommend this book enough— it is so much more than just a read.