It was 2012, and longtime East Meadow resident Andrew Alderman was in Israel, in a school courtyard five miles from the border with the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory. The then 22-year-old was traveling with the Israel Premier Lacrosse League as a volunteer, which introduces children to the game.
In his hand, Andrew, a lacrosse enthusiast, carried his lacrosse stick. Suddenly, a group of Israeli children crowded around him to check it out.
He demonstrated several lacrosse moves, simple enough for the youngsters to mimic. Laughing, he and the children created their own bubble to shut out the rubble of war around them.
Their joy, however, quickly evaporated when several rockets pierced the sky and landed nearby. The children ran and sought cover. Bewildered, Andrew followed suit.
“Airstrikes, rockets or even sirens are no joke over there,” Alderman said. “The kids take it incredibly seriously.”
Andrew has visited Israel six times. His mother, Loraine, made the trip the first time in 2014 with her husband and son. They went in the summer that year, even though Israel and Hamas were engaged in deadly warfare. They didn’t want the terrorists who were attacking Israel to win.
“We felt if we didn’t go, then the terrorists would,” Loraine said. Despite the fighting, Loraine said, she and her family still felt safe. She vowed then to return to help those in need.
Landing in Israel again
As congregants of the East Meadow Jewish Center, Alderman and his mother often take part in programs hosted by the house of worship. When they recently received a flyer about volunteering in Israel through the Sar-El Program, they didn’t think twice. The program sends volunteers to Israel Defense Forces bases across Israel to provide basic medical and social services to troops serving Israel.
“We decided to do it as a mother-and-son experience,” Loraine said. “We felt that we really needed to help and continue to volunteer our time so that others can enjoy theirs.”
Andrew, who loves to travel to Israel, said that he and his mother found that Sar-El was a great opportunity to spend time together while volunteering for a larger cause.
“I wasn’t going to let my mom go by herself, that’s for sure,” he said with a laugh. “The process to apply was incredibly lengthy, but it was worth it. If we could help save lives through our volunteer work, then everything we went through — the ups and downs — is worth it.”
Following their arrival in Israel in late July, the Aldermans were sent to an undisclosed IDF base to begin their volunteer work. Packing lightly, the two settled into the barracks and prepared for eight-hour workdays, Sundays to Thursdays. Along with 19 other volunteers ranging in age from 26 to 82, they were sent to pack medical supplies for combat soldiers and disaster-relief workers.
“The work is incredibly meticulous,” Andrew said. “Each pocket in each medical bag has something specific that belongs there. If there is one thing out of order or wrongly packed, the entire bag has to be unpacked and repacked once again.”
“If these bags are going out to soldiers in the field, they need to know which pocket holds pain-relief medicine and which pocket holds tourniquets or bandages,” Loraine added. “Each pocket has to be accounted for.”
‘A rewarding experience’
Andrew and his mother said volunteers came from any number of countries, including Italy, Belgium, Canada and South Africa. After a long day of work, volunteers ate dinner with soldiers. Some were chatty and some were quiet.
“One commander in particular — he’s been serving in the IDF for 30 years — said he didn’t appreciate the volunteer work until he saw the amount of time and effort that goes into putting one medical bag together,” Andrew said. “He later thanked us profusely.”
Sar-El program coordinator Pamela Lazarus said the work that each volunteer does on IDF bases is crucial. Because all volunteers pay for their own airfare and for their own accommodations on the weekends, Lazarus said the soldiers often jokingly question their sanity.
“Most soldiers think that our volunteers are a little crazy,” Lazarus wrote in an email sent from Israel. “‘You pay for flights? You pay for hotels on the weekends? Why do you want to come?’ These are the questions that are asked all the time when our volunteers are on bases … It gives good moral support to the soldiers.”
Andrew and his mother volunteered for a three-week program, in which several hundred volunteers participate annually, Lazarus said, adding that Sar-El takes in about 3,500 volunteers a year.
“The volunteers get a chance to do something real instead of just staying home and writing checks,” she said. “They get to meet soldiers, see what their life is like here, meet people from all over the world who also come to help.”
“It was a very rewarding experience,” Andrew said.
“We’re not done yet,” Loraine said. “We’re definitely going back.”