|sraelis in the southern town of Nitzan read Psalms together inside a street-level bomb shelter. Hadas Parush/Flash90|
You probably know about Dror Khenin, the 37-year-old father of three and volunteer fireman cut down by mortar fire on July 15 while bringing food to IDF soldiers patrolling the border. He has the tragic distinction of being the first Israeli civilian death of Operation Protective Edge, begun on July 8.
You may not know about Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon, founder of the Halacha Education Center and of JobKatif, a nonprofit that helps former Gush Katif residents re-integrate into the workplace. Last week, he led several volunteers – including Rabbi Zev Reichman of Englewood’s East Hill Synagogue – bringing food and encouragement to soldiers on the frontlines. Rather than collecting donated food, Rabbi Rimon paid for hundreds of meals from a southern caterer with a calendar full of cancelled events, and hundreds of snacks from markets and bakeries in Sderot, where customers are scant these days.
Israelis everywhere are collecting and packing food, underwear, socks and personal-care items and distributing them to the front, sometimes on their own initiative and sometimes through soldier-welfare organizations.
Why do people feel a need to feed soldiers, even endangering their own lives to deliver the goodies? The army does provide for its troops, of course. In regular times, the fare on most army bases is plentiful and rather healthful – or so my former-soldier children tell me. But during wartime, soldiers in the field make do with more meager battle rations, and they are not exactly gourmet quality. Home-baked cookies, a pizza, or a barbecue can seem like a slice of heaven under such circumstances.
And besides, this is a Jewish army. Napoleon Bonaparte famously said that an army marches on its stomach. A Jewish army marches on a stomach full of Jewish mothers’ food, a.k.a. love on a plate.
As for other items, from toothpaste to water canteens, the problem is simply that supply cannot meet demand. About 48,000 reserve soldiers alone have been called to serve in a short time. And again, because this is a citizen army of everyone’s children, Israelis are not about to let their boys (and a few girls) suffer more than necessary in the heat and danger that surrounds them 24/7.
One soldier’s father in my neighborhood sent an email blast saying that his son’s infantry unit had just been sent to the Gaza border with minimal personal equipment. He’d decided to drive down before Shabbat with as many donated towels, toiletries, and snacks as he could fit in his car, and he was hoping that his neighbors would respond generously. I was one of many who dropped off a bag at his house on Thursday night; he reportedly ended up with about 100 towels plus assorted other supplies.
But you don’t have to be making trips to Gaza in order to be a hero.
Last Tuesday night, an 18-year-old babysitter tenderly carried my three sleeping grandchildren, one by one, from their bedrooms to the “safe room” and then back upstairs to their beds after the air-raid siren was over. When our son and daughter-in-law returned from their night out, unaware there had been an alert, she proudly reported that not one of the kids woke up despite the siren and the jostling.
I have a friend in Ashkelon whose daughter’s boyfriend is a student paramedic. He volunteered for Magen David Adom in order to fill his time in a meaningful way while his classes at Ben-Gurion University are cancelled due to the constant missile barrage. While on duty in Sderot, he reluctantly accepted an assignment to don a ceramic vest and flak helmet, go to the Erez crossing, and transfer a critically ill Gazan cancer patient to a hospital in Tel Aviv. The wisdom of aiding the enemy’s injured and ill can be debated ad infinitum, but this is what happens in Israel. It probably happens nowhere else in the world.
On Monday night, one of the local synagogues sponsored a prayer gathering. I sat next to a friend who confided that she was afraid she would cry the whole time, and I understand: She has not one but two sons serving in Gaza right now. The older one left his pregnant wife and three children at home to answer the reserve duty call. Perhaps he could have gotten an exemption, she said, but he would not dream of asking because if he didn’t go, another father/son/brother would go in his place.
Outside, another friend was standing with a clipboard, collecting names of soldiers to pray for and names of volunteers willing to bake a cake for families of soldiers in our neighborhood. Love on a plate.