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A Unique Kind of Aid for Ukraine from Israel

These are not easy days.

Reading about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and seeing pictures from bombarded cities and communities have been hard for the heart and soul. 

Trying to understand a situation that is difficult to understand and wanting to help alleviate human suffering but not exactly sure how to confound the mind.

There’s a million things to say about what’s happening in Ukraine right now, and a million things are being said about it, but as someone who has been living in Israel since 2004, I want to share the following.

Israel has known conflict since its creation, from even before its creation. The Arab-Israeli conflict really got going in the early 1920s when Zionism was just beginning to take off and gaining international recognition. And since then there hasn’t been a moment that Israel has not had to be hyper-awake and aware of multiple threats facing it on multiple fronts from countries and terrorist organizations who seek its demise.

Israel knows what it means and what it feels like to be attacked by forces that don’t recognize your right to your own sovereignty and independence. Israel knows what it means to enter crisis mode and survival mode and defend itself with all of its heart and all of its might.

There’s a saying in Hebrew that has been looked at as the secret weapon behind the survival of the State of Israel against all odds. 

That saying is: “Ein breira.” “There’s no alternative.”

Israelis have learned from 70+ years of constant threats and conflicts that they simply have no alternative but to show up, stand up, rise up, be strong, be brave and face their enemies, again and again, each and every single time there is a war or wave of terror. Because if they don’t, even one time, there will be no more State of Israel and the Jewish people will return to being a people without a land, like they were for 2000 years.

And you see this on the face of everyday Israelis, living their everyday lives. 

I often wonder, when I walk by someone on the street, or sit across from someone on the train, or talk to a worker in a store, “What have they seen, what have they been through, what have they experienced in their defense of this country?”

From the bus driver to the falafel shop owner to the doctor, Israelis of all backgrounds and walks of life have given their everything to protecting this country and ensuring its future survival. And that stays with them even long after they’ve left their army service, ever after they are too old for reserve duty. 

It becomes a part of their being, their attitude, and their outlook. Ready at any moment to jump into action and help out, lend a hand, and find a solution to a problem that either they or someone else is facing.

This is the Israeli way. This has become hardwired into the Israeli DNA.

And that’s why it’s not surprising to see Israel rise up and do what it can for the Ukrainian people in their hour of need, through mediation efforts and large-scale humanitarian aid.

Of course, Israel is not the only country stepping up to help. It’s incredibly inspiring to see how many countries, organizations and corporations are doing what they can to show their support Ukraine right now.

But I feel like Israel’s aid and assistance comes with something extra that most others can’t give.

It comes with the messages: 

“We know what you’re going through.” 

“We know what it’s like to have an enemy that intentionally targets your civilians.”

“We know what it’s like to be attacked by an enemy that wants you to vanish from the world map.”

And while these messages can’t buy food, can’t rebuild destroyed buildings and can’t prevent missiles from landing, they are powerful and valuable nonetheless.

Because what we are seeing unfolding in the Ukraine is a war on the human spirit. 

And, so far, the Ukrainian people are doing a fantastic job.

And I pray that they will continue to be able to stand their ground against a villainous enemy, just as Israel has done many times before.

About the Author
Akiva Gersh has been working in the field of Jewish and Israel Education for over 20 years. In 2020 he founded @Israel to share his love and passion for Israel with students, schools and communities around the world through his online classes, courses and virtual tours of Israel. Akiva is also the editor of the book "Becoming Israeli" (at-israel.com/book), a compilation of essays that gives an inside look at the unique experience of making aliyah and the journey of acclimating to life in Israel. Akiva himself made aliyah in 2004 with his wife Tamar and they live in Pardes Hanna with their four kids. You can learn more about his work at www.at-israel.com as well as about his work teaching about Judaism and veganism at www.akivagersh.com/veganrabbi.
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