I doubt whether any of the reasonably affluent young Americans who visit Israel on Birthright tours have ever heard of Barbara Bloom Silverman. I hadn’t either until my friend took me,last week to her Synagogue in the upscale neighbourhood of Rehavia in Jerusalem. On entering we were confronted by dozens of middle aged men and women with a sprinkling of younger people who were busy packing parcels to send to young soldiers, who for the past two weeks have been searching day and night for our missing teenagers, who were brutally abducted while on their way home from Yeshiva. In the midst of this scene which was really buzzing with emotion and a sense of purpose sat a benign elderly lady wearing a white straw hat who was giving instructions to her team on what to pack and why. Goods ranging from toothbrushes to goodies,torches,lip salve,plasters for blistered feet and most importantly clean underwear for those IDF young men who had not changed their sweaty,smelly socks and pants for days. Barbara as she is lovingly known had single handed, started an organisation called “a package from home” some years back when she heard about lone soldiers and also those in fighting units whom in any time of conflict may be stuck in some god forsaken place for days.Barbara had contacted the soldiers welfare coordinator and offered her help. This organisation now has supporters and friends around the world who “at the drop of a hat” rise to the occasion. The volunteers were asked to go through the line of goods stacked on the tables in the hall and put one of each into a bag which included a note from well wishers.One read ;Dear IDF,I am very proud of you.Love Rachel aged 6.New Jersey another;Dear Soldier,Thank you for protecting the Jewish homeland.As long as you are doing this we know that our family and friends there will be safe.Lucy and Melanie.NY. I was choked,across my mind flashed similiar scenes the Yom Kippur war when we had returned to London after visiting our son who had left on the first plane out to volunteer.All of his childhood friends in Israel had already been called up. An Israeli Morris K and a Brit Cyril Sz’l had started an organisation”Golden Hearts” and people around the world were looking for army surplus vests and sweaters,wellington boots,torches,lip salve in fact anything that could bring our guys in the field comfort. We took the parcels to the airport and approached travellers in the EL AL line to take them. Morris even set up a telecommunications network so boys could call home. No one had expected that the war would last so long or that our boys would be holed up in the freezing mountains of the Golan of the deserts of Egypt.. Then, I thought of the conveyor belt in a food kitchen in Netanya, where we were ladling hot food into silver foil comtainers to be sent up to the North during the second Lebanon war,where over a million Israelis were living in shelters under fire from Hizbullah. My friend looked at me “are you alright “she said my tears were visible. “When will it end?”. “When will we Israelis be able to live like others in civilised lands.Not dependant on help from overseas,not having to constantly send our sons and daughters into battle or to carry out distasteful and soul destroying tasks,for security purposes.? She has no answer, but I have a nagging question. How can we seperate from our emotional need on Jewish communities in the Diaspora? This country is rich enough to look after the troops,no lack of volunteers, either.Overseas support is comforting but no way does it impact on our destiny as citizens of the State of Israel. Why do we need to increase funding to bring Birthright groups and insinuate ourselves into the lives and decision making of Jews who have opted to live in lands where they feel comfortable,by choice! We know there will not be another massive Aliyah,we also have a million or so Israelis living abroad,why? Surely its more important to invest the money into the futures of our children.Israel is the future for its people,living on this land. It is we who are maintaining traditions,customs,family life,and community values.We should be capable of creating the society we dreamed of in the early days of the state. The society which of itself would draw the Jews of the Diaspora. The children of Israel and indeed everyone who lives here are its future.Not speculative groups that may or may not make Aliyah,marry within the faith or continue our traditions? The funds for raising awareness,education on every level,equality,self confidence and leadership should be spent here…..not overseas. We are not absolved of failure to produce a model society.Neither have we completely absorbed the idea,that the Jewish people HAVE returned to their historic homeland.We need to remove the suitcase from our hearts,which creates yerida. We must believe that freedom of choice is what will keep the jewish people alive not emissaries going out to find”lost sousl”.Perhaps, Haviv Retting Gur is right(in TOI a few days ago)lets bring some of the less well off older generation to visit,then at least we can thank them for their unwavering support. Not withstanding we must thank Barbara,that amazing lady truly”Eshet Chail” for making us stop and think.
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