‘Tremendous need’ for volunteers on IDF bases


Mark Werner wants us to know that we can do more to support Israel than just writing a check.

“Our obligation as Jews is to strengthen Israel,” Werner, a self-described Zionist and the son of a Holocaust survivor, said in a recent phone interview. “I believe Israel is very important for the protection of Jews around the world.” 

He went on to say that in the 72 years that Israel has existed, there hasn’t been a mass persecution of Jews. “Before Israel, you couldn’t find 72 years without mass persecution of Jews,” he said.

One of the ways that Werner, a retired attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina, supports Israel is by volunteering for Sar-El, an Israeli organization that places volunteers from around the world on Israel Defense Forces (IDF) supply/logistics bases to help in supporting roles. Werner says that by volunteering, you are freeing up a soldier to do his or her job, as well as providing a morale boost to Israeli soldiers.

Werner’s new book about his experiences, “A Passion for Israel: Adventures of a Sar-El Volunteer,” relies, in part, on the diaries he has kept in his 18 years as a volunteer. His first book, “Army Fatigues: Joining Israel’s Army of International Volunteers,” was based on his first four volunteer experiences.

Werner is also the president of Volunteers for Israel, the American organization that partners with Sar-El to enables U.S. citizens to volunteer for the IDF. 

“I want American Jews to know about these experiences,” he said. “Being there makes the connection.”

He said he wrote the first book because he was frustrated at the lack of publicity for the Sar-El organization.

Werner said a large group from New England has volunteered through the years, including some Rhode Islanders.

“I look forward to it. You are out in the open and the stress goes away,” he said.

His son, David, has volunteered with him for five of the trips.

The program offers one-, two- or three-week volunteer opportunities. Due to COVID-19, trips have been canceled since March. Werner was supposed to go in June. This is the first trip he’s missed in 19 years.

“We know the work is piling up for us to do. There will be a tremendous need,” he said.

Werner will discuss his new book and answer questions via Zoom at 7 p.m. on Nov. 11. To RSVP and receive a link to the program, go to jewishallianceri.org/werner.

The free program is part of the monthly Israeli Culture Series and Behind the Book: A Visiting Author Series.

FRAN OSTENDORF (fostendorf@jewishallianceri.org) is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.

Mark Werner, Israel, Sar-El, VFI