Our daughter, Elana, our son-in-law, Zev Alpert, and their children returned to live in Israel this July, after seven years in Portland, Oregon.
Zev, the son of Jack Alpert and the late Susan Alpert of Teaneck, is a 2019 graduate of the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine. A licensed acupuncturist with a clinical specialty in treating pain and anxiety, he started building up a private practice in his family’s new home in Zichron Ya’akov, in the Haifa district.
And then the war started.
Many of Zev’s friends made aliyah in their late teens or early 20s and served in the IDF. Now most of them are in the reserves (“miluim” in Hebrew) in the south or north. Zev made aliyah in 2010 at 26, past the age for enlistment.
He has, however, found a unique way to serve his country.
Zev joined up with a group of acupuncturists, chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, and energy healers in a volunteer initiative called Chayal’s Angels — “chayal” is Hebrew for “soldier” — traveling to northern army bases to treat soldiers for aches and pains.
“Our mission is to keep their spirits high and their physical pain low,” he told me.
As of early December, about 50 members of the group collectively had treated more than 1,600 male and female soldiers, mostly reservists — “miluimnikim” in Hebrew — who are between 25 and 40 years old.
Zev learned about Chayal’s Angels through a Facebook post from its founder, Tasha Cohen.
Tasha, who comes from England, now lives near Zichron Ya’akov. She has experience in organizational business management. Because she is single, she offered to drive the husbands of friends to their bases when they were called to miluim on October 8. Soon she was driving to five or six bases a day, dropping off soldiers, food, and equipment.
“I use a lot of alternative treatment for previous injuries, so therapists I know were offering to help me stay in good condition while driving all day long,” she told me.
Chatting with soldiers, she found out that many of them also could use the services of her therapist friends.
“These are guys who’ve sat at computers for years and suddenly they’re sleeping on the ground, on the sides of roads or in muddy fields,” she said. “They’re carrying 30 to 60 kilos” — that’s 66 to 132 pounds — “of equipment all day long. Their bodies are killing them. Tank drivers have knee injuries, sharpshooters have shoulder pain, and everyone has back pain.”
Tasha got permission from officers on the bases to bring in healers.
“And it’s been amazing. The difference in the guys from when we arrive to when we leave is literally like new people. They tell us we’ve changed the game for them.”
With Tasha handling all the logistics for both the volunteer therapists and the soldiers seeking treatment, the crew just has to carpool to that day’s assigned base with their folding massage tables and set up shop in a field or tent.
“We treat them one after another,” Zev told me after a recent day of volunteering with six other therapists in the Golan Heights.
“We see a lot of back pain, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and upper respiratory problems from sleeping out in the cold. I usually treat 10 soldiers each time, and they are extremely grateful. A lot of them have never had acupuncture so it’s fun for me to introduce them to that. They all love it. They tell me, ‘I feel things moving, I feel things flowing.’
“One guy had what seems to be a herniated disk affecting the lower spinal nerves. He was scheduled to get medical imaging right before the war, but that never happened because he got called up. So now he’s out there sleeping on the ground, carrying heavy equipment, and he’s really suffering. I gave him some pain relief through acupuncture and massage. Then he had a lot of questions about what to do next. I was able to give him some exercises to strengthen the muscles around the spine and keep everything firm, and some guidance on how to move and carry things. It was a really great therapeutic interaction.”
Most of the volunteers are English-
speaking immigrants. There also are sabras, and once even a tourist came with them. Zev says communication isn’t an issue. He speaks fluent Hebrew but many of the others don’t, and the soldiers are pleased to practice their English.
“These guys are keeping us all safe, and working with them gives me a tremendous feeling of fulfillment,” Zev said. “I love seeing their sense of camaraderie. It’s a great atmosphere to be a part of.”
I asked how he feels about his family’s having returned to Israel less than three months before a war broke out.
“In a strange way, it feels good that we came when we did because we are seeing tremendous unity and a big surge of pride to be here, to be Israeli, to want to help,” he told me. “I feel good that my spirit is raised in that sense, and I can give that to my kids.
“I’d rather the horrors that occurred hadn’t occurred, but we are all growing from this somehow. I love doing my part to help out with this bad situation we’re in. I walk away feeling so energized even though physically I’m really tired.”
Tasha is seeking sponsors to cover the considerable cost of fuel involved in ferrying volunteers to and from the northern bases. Donations can be made at www.givesendgo.com/basesupplyline. The funding site itself is Christian-run but does not take any percentage of donations. Tasha hopes to join an existing nonprofit or create a new one, because she believes Chayal’s Angels will have an ongoing role in healing soldiers from physical injuries and emotional trauma when this war is over.
When that day comes — after we have vanquished Hamas and rescued all our hostages, God willing — Zev said he hopes that the “extreme unity amongst the Jewish people, from very secular to very religious” that exists now will endure.
“Everyone is coming together to support each other, and I really hope and pray that it never goes back to a state of polarity, that we just keep getting stronger and stronger together,” he said. “It is a tremendous privilege to be part of that effort.”