During Wesleyan’s winter recess, Vera Schwarcz, the Mansfield Freeman Professor of East Asian Studies, worked on a paratroopers’ reservist base in Israel through Volunteers for Israel. The 30-year-old program seeks volunteers to promote solidarity and goodwill among Israelis, American Jews, and other friends of Israel.
Each day, Schwarcz and 13 other volunteers in her group, reported for work in a warehouse overseen by a female officer, the mother of two young children.
“We, the American volunteers worked alongside young soldiers (mostly 19-year-old girls) and male reservists in their late 20s – all sent to this base to help out with the massive task of repairing and resupplying the paratroopers’ tanks, jeeps and field uniforms. The mixture of backgrounds and races on our team was astonishing: Russian, Yemenite, Ethiopian, Moroccan and American. We worked side by side using a mélange of tongues that included French and Spanish along with English and Hebrew,” Schwarcz said.
Schwarcz’s group spent their time sorting uniforms according to size and packing duffle bags with blankets, helmets, utensils, canteens, and ammo vests. Since Schwarcz is fluent in Hebrew, she was put in charge of final bag checking.
“This was a huge and humbling responsibility—beyond what I had imagined when I set off for this service trip,” she said. “In the base, it all made sense. I gladly breathed in the dust and swept the floor to get rid of strings, tags and mouse droppings at the end of the workday. In a miniscule way I was making a difference.”