For more than two weeks now, our minds have been preoccupied with our missing boys, Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali. We feel this around the country, including here in Efrat, just around the corner from the bus stop from where the boys were taken; a bus stop now decorated in banners emblazoned with the boys’ names. Last Monday night at 7:30 or so, just as I was getting ready to read books to my kids before bed, my husband came into the room. “Soldiers are arriving in Efrat for the night! Go now! Get them cookies and coffee!” I knew the community notices going out by email and Facebook to welcome these soldiers tugged at the heartstrings of my husband, recalling his own stint as a chayal boded (lone soldier).
On short notice, off I went to the store with two of my pajama-clad kids. We filled up the shopping cart at the local market, and walked up to where the soldiers were setting up for the night to show our gratitude. The handful of soldiers who were unpacking were happy and surprised to see us. “Where is everyone?” I asked them. “Out searching.” In the pause that followed, the grim reality of the situation hung in the air.
As the minutes ticked on into the evening, the food began to roll in: cakes, cookies, hot dogs, hamburgers, pita, sandwiches, fruit, and then some. You name it, we were bringing it. Before we knew it, barbecues were being lit and the community hospitality was on! A projector was set up to screen the Mondial.
For nearly two weeks our nation had been waiting, and praying, and waiting some more. These soldiers gave us something to do, a small way to help. All the energy spent praying and worrying was quickly poured into cake batters and fruit plates. As we slogged through the last full week of school and its routine, we were all too happy for the distraction, and the ability to do something.
So great was the community’s hospitality that the soldiers stayed another night. This time, well organized barbecues were set up in each of the three locations where the soldiers were staying. While at the grocery store, a friend of mine noted another woman’s cart, piled high with barbecue supplies. She relayed to me the thought that ran through her head at that moment, “That’s enough food to feed an army!” And that was exactly what we were up to. Did the community turn out enough food for the several hundred soldiers staying in Efrat? No, we had enough food for probably double that. All the leftovers were sent out to other brigades in the area, also hungry and appreciative recipients of our hospitality.
The next night, the soldiers stayed on again. Pizzas had been donated from New York, and a dairy meal was on. The soldiers began to feel less like boys who crashed the night, and became “our” soldiers. Once again the community outdid itself with food to spare. The evenings were replete with smiles from the community, cards made with love from our children, and spontaneous song and dance. I was impressed by how many people came together each night, time and again, with contributions large and small, to make each evening a success.
As the week wound down, so did the number of soldiers staying over in Efrat. Today, Sunday, as they rolled out of Efrat, we greeted a fresh group of soldiers, some away from home for more than three weeks now. While we hope the search ends soon, as they continue their mission to find the boys, so too we will continue our mission to feed them and strengthen their spirits.