By Joan Allyn Kodish,
This month’s honoree, Marion Richer, personifies the old adage that “you can’t keep a good woman down” and Volunteers for Israel (VFI) is all the better for her dedication! Undoubtedly, she is among the longest-serving and most consistent volunteers in the entire history of Gen Davidi’s genius stroke of helping volunteers help the Israel Defense Forces (IDF.) Marion first learned about VFI-Sar-El and volunteered in 1994. Through family joys and catastrophes, she has been a Sar-El volunteer and role model every single year since. No matter what was happening at home in Connecticut, including her daughter in law’s pregnancy and her son’s surgery five days before her scheduled departure for Israel; Marion has always found a way to do Sar-El.
Full disclosure: Marion Richer is my friend and I feel particularly honored to be in a position to enumerate her many accomplishments, as a Sar-Elie and otherwise, while VFI’s spotlight shines upon her.
Marion is a seventy-seven (77) year old fireball who can work circles around her fellow volunteers, even those decades younger. And, she does that, day in and day out, year after year, with kind words to all and a smile on her face! Marion has been married for fifty-four (54) years to her husband, Stanley. He is also a repeat Sar-El volunteer. She is the proud mother of three sons and eight grandchildren.
Marion was first introduced to Sar-El in 1994 by her oldest son, who had then recently returned from a stint assisting the Israeli soldiers as a Sar-El volunteer. She admits that she did not really know much about the nuts and bolts of Sar-El when she arranged for her first volunteer assignment in summer, 1994. Her son had only told her enough to whet her appetite for adventure.
When she first arrived at the old Matzrap’s volunteer village, she was “hooked.” Marion explained that the work was very similar to the work done by volunteers today. In fact, several of the warehouse supervisors from the 1990s are still in the same warehouses. Although the work was similar, life on the base was markedly different from today. The volunteers had the assistance of madrichim, both male and female. Also, on those nights with no evening programs, the Sar-Elies often left the base—either to hang out in the coffee shop of nearby Tel Hashomer Hospital or to take a bus into Tel Aviv. She became friendly with one of the soldiers, who invited her and a few other volunteers to attend a concert one evening. Back then, housing was a large stand-alone dorm room for about ten people. Marion made her love for Sar-El abundantly clear. She says that: “From the very beginning, there was no question. I WOULD return to the Sar-El experience.”
In the 1990s, Marion was still an elementary school teacher. She would trek to Israel in the heat of summer, for three weeks of volunteer service, and then return home to vacation with Stanley. This pattern continued for more than a decade through retirement number one and seven years as a nursery school teacher. Gradually, she added weeks to her mission until, after retirement two, she developed a pattern of volunteering in the early spring for two or three months. As a result, Marion has served at IDF bases all over the State of Israel and has been assigned to many bases multiple times. Marion leaves no doubt as to her future: “I intend to return to Sar-El, year after year, as long as I remain healthy. Sar-El has become a HUGE part of who I am! It defines me. And, it brings me closer to Eretz Yisrael.”
As with other honorees, I asked Ms Richer why she continues to choose to volunteer her time to Sar-El when there are myriad other volunteer opportunities available in Israel. Her response was two-fold. “My driving force is to help the State of Israel. Since the IDF is so critical to the country’s well-being and very existence in a hostile environment, anything I can do to help the army is significant. I believe this is true whether I package duffel bags for reservists, pack medical suppliers for the front-line, help the cooks in base kitchens, paint fences or count and fold uniforms.” Secondarily, Marion loves the feeling of accomplishment and seeing the soldiers’ gratitude when she finishes an assignment.
When this month’s Volunteer in the Spotlight is at home, she is an active participant in the life of her shul. She is a past president of both her congregation and its Sisterhood as well as a daily minyan attendee. Marion also shares an honor with Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu. Here congregation awarded her its highest honor, “Shem Tov” (a good name.) This honor is recorded in JNF/KKL volumes housed in the Jerusalem headquarters. Her name is listed immediately above Bibi’s.
Stanley and Marion are devoted to camping and kayaking in both rural Connecticut and the Adirondack mountains, where they are members of an upstate New York outdoors group. They have camped in many US national parks.
Please join the officers and board of Volunteers for Israel in a hearty mazal tov to May’s Volunteer in the Spotlight, Marion Richer, the dictionary definition of dedication to Sar-El.