November 30, 2015

'Lightly' Injured. Indefinable.

Perhaps you heard about the terror attack at a bus stop last Friday

Or maybe, if you live outside Israel, you did not even hear about this attack. So much horror and terror happen in the world daily, especially in the Middle East, that not all stories are reported.

During this attack, two soldiers were lightly wounded. We breathed a sigh of relief on hearing this news. And then the phone rang; these wounded soldiers are my daughter’s chanichim, part of the Garin Tzabar group that she was leading.

One is Daniel and the other is Jake and they are lone soldiers. They do not have parents here and their Hebrew is not fluent. They arrived in Israel in July, committed to serving in the IDF and they were just inducted into the army. They turned up at base a few days before, received an IDF uniform and were then allowed to leave for Shabbat.

Four of these new soldiers were standing at a bus stop waiting to go home to their kibbutz. They were waiting inside the concrete barrier designed to protect civilians from car rammings. They had just visited a friend in Ma’ale Adumim. It was a warm, sunny morning and they were looking forward to being reunited with their garin tzabar friends over Shabbat and sharing their new experiences. They saw the bus nearing.

The next moment, a car came speeding towards them, knocking two of them over. It screeched to a stop, the wheels wedging one of them underneath the car. The driver jumped out holding a knife and started to chase a soldier who had just been hit by the car. With a broken leg, the soldier had the wits and strength to jump over the barrier and run.

A second later, a car pulled up, an Israeli jumped out and shot the terrorist.  The ambulance was there within minutes and the two were taken to hospital in Jerusalem with light injuries. This is the reported story.

And here is the back story. Daniel is a new immigrant from a rural town in Germany who did not grow up with a Jewish affiliation. One summer, he met a group of Israelis at camp and felt an instant bond. He had never felt so connected to people and so he decided to take a trip to Israel.

He eagerly came to Israel and never returned to Germany. He spent time touring, learning in yeshiva and became a religious practicing Jew.  He enrolled in the Garin Tzabar program and officially made aliyah in July.

Daniel is a runner and spent these last three months training for the army. He would wake up every morning and run. It did not matter that his kibbutz was perched on a mountaintop; this made his workout even more challenging and rewarding.

When the time came to go into the army, he tried out for an elite unit and was accepted into Maglan, the elite paratroopers unit. His dream had finally come true. And so, last Thursday, he went into the army as a proud new Israeli soldier.

And now, two days later, he is lying in a hospital bed. He had complicated surgery on Friday afternoon and was under anaesthesia. His leg and foot had been fractured, his body cut and bruised. There will be a long road of rehab and physio during the six-month recovery period.  

In the short film made for the garin that I posted on this blog, Daniel was the one running to the theme of "Chariots of Fire."  His running shoes now sit idly beside his bed.

When Aviva found out the news of the terror attack last Friday afternoon, her face was ashen and she burst into tears. She grabbed the car keys and wanted to drive straight to the hospital. It was 3:00 and Shabbat was to come in at 4:15.  We hugged her and told her there was no time. She would have to wait. Although he is older than her, Daniel is like a son to Aviva. And he is alone.

As soon as Shabbat was out Saturday night, Aviva, Amir and I went to visit Daniel at the hospital.

We had to sit outside in the waiting room as the man who shot the terrorist and saved Daniel’s life was visiting. They needed privacy. Apparently this man cannot be identified as his life could be in danger of retaliatory attack.

We sat and were joined by a crowd of other garin tzabar kids, Daniel’s new family. One friend even slept in the hospital with him so he would not be alone. This tribute to Daniel was written by a friend who also visited him Saturday night.

We were soon joined by two guys who are volunteers for lonesoldier centerThey had never met Daniel before and were here to give support.

Other volunteers walked in. This time it was a wandering minstrel. A group of young kids came in with bongos, guitars, a flute and lots of ruach. They played Idan Raichel and soon, a group of hospital visitors gathered and started to dance. Two young Arabs en route to the vending machine walked in, garbed in their hospital smocks, casts on their arms.

The minstrels accompanied us down the hall to Daniel’s room. He lay there looking confused, overwhelmed. He could not remember the events of the attack too well and we did not want to press him, so we sat beside him while the minstrels sang and the garin danced. Aviva hugged him and we held his hand. He did not want to let go.

This is lightly injured.

Meet Jake. He is from Florida and has always dreamed of joining the IDF. His parents told him to first finish high school before going to Israel. He did.

They insisted he then do a one-year Israel program. He did. And as soon as he was finished this, he joined Garin Tzabar. He too wanted an elite position. Aviva worked hard to help get him a good combat job and in he joined the Golani brigade last Sunday. He was proudly wearing his uniform when they dislodged the car that ran him over and crushed him as he witnessed the knife attack.

He was discharged from the hospital Friday and sent to his aunt and uncle’s house to recover.

We went over there last Saturday night. “It was a Chanukah miracle,” his aunt told us. “If he had not been pinned under the car, the terrorist would have seen him and killed him.”

Jake’s whole body was black and blue. His leg was in a cast and his two arms were in bandages. He had scrapes all over and he looked dazed. Jake will be in therapy for six months as well. He will not be able to join his unit and continue to fulfill his dream. Not yet.

This is lightly injured.

Imagine the parent’s stress being so far away from their son. Imagine the fear Jake and Daniel felt. Imagine the nightmares they may have. And imagine the strength it will take to recover and to move on.

And this is lightly injured.

Daniel and Jake are young and they are lucky to be alive. We in Israel are privileged to have them living here.

We wish them refuah shlemiah, a complete and speedy recovery and the ability to fulfill their dreams.

Here is a postscript to the story. Jake's mom came from Florida to be by her son's side. When the two were recently interviewed by Haaretz, Jake was asked if he would soon be returning to the US. He looked astonished and replied 'no' explaining, "If I leave the country, the terrorists win." 

November 26, 2015

We will bring the joy back

Sarah Techiya and Ariel under the chuppa tonight.
Here in Israel, there is tragedy almost every day.  I do not need to echo the news stories, the deep sorrow, the intense loss of beautiful lives and the insanity.

We are living through horrific times and there is no solution in sight. We are glued to the news, to every flash across our phone screens, to each ambulance that flies by with sirens blaring.

When we step outside, we wish we had eyes behind our heads. We are hyper aware in crowds of people and when walking near bus shelters and on crowded sidewalks.

We are, in effect, learning to live alertly. But the key words here are ‘to live.’ We are not cowering inside. We go to work, we send our children to school,  we do our groceries. We sip our coffees like we always do, the warm November sun washing over our faces. We go out for meals, preferring an outdoor table, where we sip a glass of wine with friends.

We live. Israelis love life and we will continue to live each day fully. We will not cower or run or hide. We will not let fear dictate us. No. We will mourn and we will celebrate.

The most beautiful example of this is the story of  Sarah-Techiya Litman. The Shabbat before her wedding to Ariel Bigel, her family was driving to the town of Meitar, where Ariel lives. En route, terrorists opened fire and killed her father and her 18-year-old brother. This was just before Shabbat, a Shabbat that was to be celebrated. Instead, it was a Shabbat of shock, whispers and tears.

Instead of having a wedding, there were two funerals and a shiva.  Sarah said, “This evening, instead of wearing the bridal dress, I will sit on the floor with a torn shirt.”  On that evening, 1,000 women gathered in the wedding hall to learn Torah, listen to music and to be strengthened.

Sarah and Ariel decided they would mourn and then celebrate. They postponed the wedding for  nine days and have invited the whole nation of Israel. The chuppa is tonight at the Binyanei Ha’Uma in Jerusalem, the largest hall in the country.

The wedding invitation. "Everyone is invited."

Tens of thousands are coming from all parts of the country because Israelis love celebrating and they care deeply for each other. And because we are one big family. 

Tonight, Am Israel is being bound up by song and by dance. Being beside the young bride and groom strengthens the couple and our nation's future.   

After the tragic death of yeshiva student Ezra Schwartz, we mourned again. Many other yeshiva students in Israel and their parents abroad may have panicked, yet the answer is not to run away. 
American Yeshiva student Ezra Shwartz z"l. We mourn for him.

A facebook video that went viral explains why. Please click on the video in this Times of Israel article and listen to the inspired words of Elisha Levy.

And remember the words of Sarah, a young but wise 20 year old. A bride who just lost her father and brother to terror and who is now dancing at her wedding reminds us that "We will bring the joy back."

November 15, 2015

A Family for Life

V’shavu  banim l’gvulam….and the sons have returned home.

We must have belted out this song dozens of times in the last few months when we hosted my daughter’s newest ‘family’ for meals.

Shlomo Katz singing this song. Our rendition is more boisterous and involves lots of clapping and cheering!

In August, Aviva left her beloved ‘adopted’ Ethiopian soldiers to assist new olim in the Garin Tzabar program.

Garin Tzabar, founded in 1991, was established to help young adults moving to Israel and joining the IDF. The new immigrants are housed on kibbutzim and in absorption centres across the country. 

They are adopted by Israeli families, given a Hebrew course and are prepared for army life by enthusiastic young soldiers. The Garin Tzabar organization proudly claims to be a “Family for Life.”

This past August, 350 olim arrived. They are between the ages of 18 to 23. Interestingly, 320 were not religious, while 30 came from a religious background. This in itself is food for thought as it may represent who today’s Zionists are. Leaving behind one’s family, language, culture and comforts is a huge step and Garin Tzabar is there to offer a soft, secure landing. 

It all started with special greetings at the airport. A day of great fanfare, dignitaries and the famous Israeli singer Idan Raichel greeted the new immigrants.

As a soldier, Aviva was assigned a group of 15 chanichim (campers) who were religious and who came from Britain, South Africa, France, Germany and the US (hmmm, no Canadians?….). Her group also included two Chabadniks who arrived complete with black hats and a passion for learning Tanya. 

After her first day, Aviva excitedly called me to say she was witnessing a new form of Zionism. I could not agree more. Despite all odds: the constant Israel bashing internationally; the wars; the terror threats; and the fearfulness of many Jews living outside of Israel, these young people came with such enthusiasm, they even inspired the Israelis they met.  

Being in their early twenties, they have chosen the ideal time to make this important move. After their army service, they will be fully fluent in Hebrew and will have acclimatized culturally. Army service seems to be a prerequisite to opportunity here in Israel.

These Lone Soldiers were assigned to Kibbutz Ma’ale Gilboa, a sweet place set on a mountaintop in the Beit She'an Valley. The kibbutz will be this group’s home for the next three years, until they complete their army service. 

The kibbutz families were so excited about the new arrivals, they practically had to compete to gain a new recruit. They did a sort of ‘speed dating,’ inviting the olim for meals until everyone found a fit. The families will act as their new parents for the next three years.

And so the group settled into life on the kibbutz. Aviva took them to the bank, government offices, army meetings and helped sort them through the red tape and bureaucracy that just ‘is.’ She taught them Hebrew and took them on trips across the country. 

They bonded together like glue and now, three months later, they are about to leave each other to enter into service. They will be going into various units in the army and are excited to be living and serving in Israel. They have boundless energy, love and enthusiasm for their new home. They will be family to each other, their group leaders and to the kibbutz for life.

They are our heroes.  V’shavu  banim l’gvulam.

This video was made especially for this inspiring group. We wish them much success in their army service.