After October 7th, it became clear to our family of six that Israel was going to be the only destination for our winter break, even though we had spent a beautiful July there. How could we lie on the beaches of Florida and relax, or go to Costa Rica and explore, we thought, when 7 million of our Israeli brothers and sisters had just suffered the worst assault since the Holocaust. With no real plans except to be with Israel in support and solidarity, we packed our bags and boarded our ELAL flight, landing in a very empty airport, but with hearts full of hope and love.
Little by little, we put together a trip of connection and giving. We wept and wept at Hostage Square and wore our dog tags and yellow ribbon bracelets. We protested outside the Red Cross Representative Residence in Jaffa and shouted “do your job” with the crowd gathered there. We attended the Nova 6.29 exhibit and through its creative presentation of the events at the dance festival, we relived the last moments of over 350 young people, mowed down without warning. We picked cherry tomatoes at Moshav Ahituv near Tel Aviv, and harvested clementines at Moshav Yesha near the Gaza envelope. We cooked vegan meals for Israeli soldiers and we gave blood through Magen David Adom.
But it was the connection we made with a young woman named Almog, an IDF representative, which offered us a moving volunteer opportunity that summed up the giving spirit of the Israeli people.
“What do the soldiers need,” we asked Almog, “we want to buy them what they need.”
It was easy for her to respond and we were handed a short list: men’s underwear, gloves, and AA batteries. We weren’t sure where to go, so we went to the equivalent of Macy’s or JC Penney in Israel called HaMashbir. We headed straight to the men’s department and began grabbing multiple pairs of underwear in various sizes and gloves, filling basket after basket . The clerk there noticed the commotion and approached us.
“What’s this, for the soldiers?” We nodded. She smiled at us and guided to the ones on sale this week. We loaded up five carts and and stood in line to check out. As we started placing the items on the counter for the cashier to scan, various people in line realized what we were doing.
“For the soldiers?” they asked.
“Yes,” we answered. They nodded approvingly at us. The cashier asked if we had a Mashbir number to get the extra discounts.
“We’re from the US,” we responded, shaking our heads, “we don’t have a Mashbir card.” A woman behind us handed over her card.
“Here, use my number,” she said. We shared our appreciation and the cashier started scanning. She told me in her Russian accent that her brother was in Gaza, putting a hand on her heart. In response, I put my hand on my heart and swallowed hard. She rummaged around the counter for some papers.
“Look, I have these 15% off coupons, it will cost less,” she continued scanning. We thanked her for her thoughtfulness.
“Is this for the soldiers?” another woman from the back of the line asked.
“Yes,” we said.
“Here, use my credit card please,” she said, extending her hand. It was an offer we didn’t expect.
“Yes, here, let me help, use my card too,” another person offered us her credit card. Then another. They wanted to help with the payment. My eyes welled up with tears. We were total strangers and they were handing us their credit cards.
We walked out with bags and bags of underwear, gloves, and batteries, but our hearts were cracked open by the generosity of spirit on full display in the check out line at the Tel Aviv HaMashbir. Am Yisrael Chai!