In May of 2002, an appeal was made for volunteers from the Diaspora to help out in Israel during ongoing terrorist attacks. Jill (Yocheved) Mannie, of Johannesburg, South Africa describes her response to this call.

Why did I choose to leave my three children (aged 6, 4 and 2) and the comforts of my home, and fly to Israel as a military volunteer in the middle of frequent suicide bombings? (I left my children in the safe care of my husband and mother and prepared three weeks of meals in advance.) I did so based on the belief that all Jewish people are a soul family. We are one, and right now it is OUR Israeli children who live under terrible threat and need our help. 

By choosing to be a volunteer on an army base as part of the SAR-EL program, my family and I were not given any information about where I would be stationed or what I’d be doing. I only knew that I would try to give every Israeli I met some sort of encouragement that G-d loves them and that we Jews in the Diaspora really do care.

To my delight I found out that there were 51 other volunteers stationed with me who felt exactly the same way. They came from Norway, Italy, England, Canada, America, Germany, South Africa, New Zealand, and Germany, and were a mix of religious and secular Jews and even a few gentiles. The volunteers ranged in age from 20 to 88. There were students, ex-marines, lawyers, a vet, a ballroom dancer, a
bail-bondsman, a dentist, psychologists, a banker, housewives, and retirees.
Each person was there to give whatever help, love and support that he or she could provide.

One inspiring volunteer was a wonderful old man who had come with his wife. We never met her, as she felt that she was better equipped to help out in a hospital. For three weeks this remarkable couple (both in their mid 80s) only saw each other on Shabbat, when we at the base had time off. Another man in his mid 30s came from one of the Scandinavian countries where he is the ONLY Jew in his town; neither his wife nor his two daughters are Jewish. Yet when Israel sent out a cry for help, his soul heard the call and he rushed to serve.

As a religious woman, I was issued an army shirt and boots as well as an army SKIRT – an unusual sight on the base. In their hometowns, many of the volunteers would probably never have discussed Judaism with an observant woman – the wig alone would have kept them at bay. Because they had come to help Israel, their hearts and souls were receptive. As a result, I found myself sharing time and again the incredible story of how my husband and I gave up our scuba diving school on the banks of Lake Malawi to adopt a Torah lifestyle.

In my conversations with soldiers (who are mere children themselves, just out of school), many told me that when they see so many people coming from all over the world, they realize that they are not alone, that Israel is strong and that our Homeland will indeed survive. Sadly, too many Israelis are of the opinion that Diaspora Jews always send money but no one really comes when there is trouble.

Did our being in Israel really make a difference? You bet. For every volunteer, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) saves thousands of shekels they would otherwise pay a reservist – a long term saving that puts money into vital resources like medical and military supplies. It also means that an Israeli family can stay together because someone in the Diaspora has come to do the job of someone’s father, mother, brother, son, etc.

Back home in South Africa, my four year-old son thinks his mother is the “coolest” mom on the block because I went to help the Israeli Army. In truth, my children are still too young to understand much about the threat to Israel. I kept a diary while in Israel, complete with newspaper articles, etc., for them to read when they are old enough. What better legacy in the education of love for one’s fellow can I possibly give them?

World Jewry is once again under threat; we have to stand together no matter what our religious affiliation. Recently, 52 volunteers from the four corners of the world put aside their political and religious differences and stood together in a common cause. If we are to survive as a people, we must all do the same.