|DEALING WITH THE WAR IN GAZA - July 27, 2014
A group of us just came back from an emotional and moving day.
It was organized by one of our friends in Maale Adumim, Yehuda Tatelbaum, who has a brother on a base about a mile from Egypt and a few kilometers from Gaza. About 20 of us went from Maale Adumim, all of us neighbors in the Mitzpe Nevo neighborhood. We had 6 cars, each loaded with food, sweets, meats, charcoal, fruits and vegetables, personal care products, and letters from children letting the soldiers know how much they are loved and appreciated.
Our first stop was at an army base near Gaza, and we were warmly and enthusiastically welcomed by the many soldiers stationed there for the time being. Everything was makeshift, there were some tents, packed gear and backpacks all over the lawns, foam rubber mattresses....far from the comforts of home, these men and women are proudly defending the land and people of Israel. At this first stop, we got a loving reception, the kind of which was to repeat itself twice more during the day, namely, we came to say thank you to our soldiers, and they thanked us even more for thinking of them and their needs and for actually coming out of our comfort zone into their war zone. It was quite incredible.
Prior to our first stop we bought extra grocery items in Be'er Sheva. Home baked goods and cookies could be found in almost every trunk. One car was likely the favorite, as it carried perhaps a dozen zippered canvas bags of shnitzel sandwiches- 500 OF THEM! They were prepared by a crew that began their work at midnight and made sure to have everything prepared by the time we left.
We knew we were going to a dangerous area. Most of us have the "red alert" app on our phones, and every time it went off, we had to make sure to respond appropriately if we were in the area. Thank God no rockets were sent our way. Before we got to our second base, however, while idling in traffic waiting for the go-ahead to enter the base, we could hear loud booms and feel the thud of contact even while in our cars. When I asked a nearby security man what the noise was, he said it was Israeli planes striking at Gazan targets. It was real, it was unnerving, it was scary, and we had to decide as a group whether to continue ahead or turn around. Given that there were no sirens sounding, and understanding that our soldiers deal with much worse and we are here for them, we forged ahead.
At the second base we saw many tanks and other armored carriers, and many soldiers including one who lived in Baltimore but whose family made aliyah a few years ago. He was from the last class at Rambam, Yaron Trink, and we took a picture with him which he knew would make his parents very happy. We embraced the soldiers and told them in any language we could how much we love them and appreciate them and wish them every success in their mission. Some had already fought in Gaza and were now waiting for their next orders.
The third base was the one closest to Egypt, and likely to Gaza as well. By that time in the afternoon, there was some kind of lull in the action and we heard nothing and felt nothing under our feet. A truck with several soldiers came to take the remaining food, which was still quite a substantial variety of goodies for the soldiers. The guard in the booth at this base was from the former Soviet Union, and when I asked him where we are, he collected a few English words and said wryly, "we are at the end of the world here." Indeed, to the untrained eye there was not much to see for huge distances in any direction. This was the base where our friend's brother was stationed for the time being. He was extremely appreciative and expressed the sentiments of his fellow soldiers stationed much deeper on the base than we would have been allowed to enter.
Several of the group went to Seroka hospital in Be'er Sheva on the way home to Maale Adumim.
At one of our pit stops in between bases, one of our group leaned against his car and was on the verge of tears. I went over to comfort him and asked him what he was thinking about. He said it was a very emotional time for him, he and his family had made aliyah from Pittsburgh recently, and he thought of how now he would be sitting in his office in his hometown if not for aliyah, and how grateful he was for trading in that life, for a life of purpose in Israel. He was overwhelmed at the privilege of being with the soldiers who were protecting him and his family, a feeling made even more poignant by imagining that not everyone he met is for sure making it home. We hugged and knew we had more to accomplish during the day.
One of our delegation was a woman who made aliyah with her family recently, and she was moved to come for many of the same reasons the rest of us made this journey. But she had an extra reason: today was her father's 9th yahrzeit, and she knew that spending the day doing acts of kindness and compassion was a sure way to bless and lift his soul in heaven. When I asked her to share her feelings, she struggled to get any words out. Her past, her present, and her children's future in a safe and secure land had all come together to create a well-spring of emotion which could find no articulate expression. She was feeling more this day than she ever imagined was possible in the middle of a war.
Right before we left the last base, I was called by Jay Bernstein, host of Shalom USA, for a pre-arranged interview. He asked where I was, and when I told him I was right outside of Egypt and Gaza, whatever questions he may have had for me about the current situation gave way to asking me to report on what we saw, what we felt, and what my projections were for the future. I spoke about the unequivocal need and obligation to defend ourselves for the terror and evil of our Israel and Jew hating neighbors in Gaza. Indeed, as all of us experienced in just a few potentially terrifying hours, this was no way to live. Jay gave me all the time I need to heap lavish praise on our outstanding soldiers, who, with God's help and through His revealed and countless miracles during this war, will do their best to eliminate the threats of rockets and tunnels. They put their lives on the line every day, and we saw it, and felt it under our feet, and it left many of us moved and transformed.
Thank God we came home safely, and I pray that our soldiers defending the land and people of Isarel be privileged to do the same.