Thursday, July 24, 2014

Doing their bit

Israel at war is an Israel where everyone feels the need to contribute. This is still a small country where everyone seems interconnected and with the front so close to soldiers' homes local communities are able to organise a continuous stream of care packages. Day after day community notice boards are covered in notices about which family or synagogue is collecting for which unit, what supplies are most needed by the soldiers, which stores are donating goods, which stores are offering discounts to civilians shopping for care packages and so on.

This week for example my upstairs neighbours was contacted by a relative serving in the reserves, telling her his unit has been living on battle rations for weeks. She put out a call for volunteers to cook for the soldiers, so that at least for Shabbat they could enjoy a taste of home. A steady flow of people carrying foil pans and plastic containers to her door continued late into the night, folks from around the neighbourhood bringing trays laden with kugels, rice, chicken and all manner of salads and dips, freshly baked hallot and cookies.

My neighbour joked that it was a great way to meet local residents, many of us living on the same street for the past decade or more but only now finally getting to know each other beyond a basic smile and "shalom" while passing one another in the car park or on our way to dump bottles at the recycling bins. Early Friday morning the unit sent a military truck right to our building to collect the fridge full of donations and Sunday morning grateful soldiers e-mailed photos of tired looking men with stubbled faces and dusty crumpled fatigues tucking in to the meals on Friday afternoon.

Brave civilians drive down to the Gaza border area risking Hamad mortar fire to bring food, toiletries, underwear and messages of support to weary soldiers. One man has already been killed on such a mission of kindness, struck down while handing out treats. The IDF has tried to ban civilians from endangering themselves by coming so close to Gaza, but people are still determined to find a way to get some home comforts to the front line bases. To get an idea just how dangerous that area is, four soldiers were killed today by a mortar right in this Gaza  border region.

Israeli civilians are also doing their best to support the hundreds of thousands of people living in towns and villages right near the Gaza border, people who've been living under heavy fire, in or close to their shelters. Some businesses have had to close, others have no choice, as in the case of the farmers harvesting their crops in the intervals between mortars and rockets, with nowhere to take cover out in the open fields, in recent weeks this has cost the life of a farm worker, one of several killed or injured in recent years by attacks from Gaza.

In the middle of all this people still need to somehow earn their living, care for their families, keep their children from going completely stir crazy from the long hours in the shelters and the day after day of bombardments and alerts. Volunteers have gone down to entertain the kids in the shelters, bringing with them donations of toys, books and treats from northern and central Israel.

All over Israel synagogues and social centres have organised group purchases from southern businesses, be it mass orders of hallot for Shabbat from bakeries in Sderot and Ofakim, farmers markets in support of southern farms or young couples having their wedding invitations printed by printshops in frontline communities.

It's not just collections for our own people though, various Israeli groups have been organising aid efforts for civilians in Gaza - drives for baby clothes and formula, clothing and medical equipment, as well as organising toys and Arabic language children's books for Gazan children continuing to receive medical treatment in Israeli hospitals.

People are trying to help so much that sometimes they're going overboard, so many people flocking to hospitals upon hearing of lone soldiers with few visitors that the hospitals have had to turn people away because these wounded soldiers who needed rest were being flooded with well wishers. 

I remember a record of songs from the '73 War my mother used to play. One of the songs was about a reservist writing to his girlfriend and the chorus went something like "send me underwear and vests, here we're living like animals, fighting like lions, morale is very high, and in our platoon we're desperate for a ceasefire - please sweetie, don't send me more cakes!" With the masses and masses of goods being baked for soldiers I feel like I finally understand it. 

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