Keith Brooks
International Business Executive Living and Working in Israel

I volunteered for the IDF, part 2

In my prior blog post I talked about the volunteer program before I had experienced it. Now you get the real information about the experience.

Wow! What a week it was, started off with Netta Barzilai winning the Eurovision Contest, Yom Yerushalayim and Rosh Chodesh Sivan. Oh, and the US Embassy moving to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, was finally fulfilled by a sitting president of the United States. We took time out of our day to watch the historic ceremony.

Yet to be determined if US citizens born in Jerusalem will finally be able to have their US Passports say Jerusalem, Israel. One miracle at a time people.

Lastly, never one to miss out on any PR, the incident in Gaza also occurred this week where we checked off 50+ more terrorists we no longer need to worry about.

But you want to know about the experience, it was not magical or mystical, it was reality, our kids reality when they are in the army. Unlike the other people I was with, my kids are not of army age so I may have seemed at times a bit uninformed. The army by the way is all about acronyms and slang names for things they use with some being funny and others being quite appropriate. I still have no idea what the acronyms all stand for but my kids will earn them all.

We stayed on a base in the south, in the same barracks/dorms that the soldiers live in when on the base. We ate the same food they ate, we davened together with them when we had a minyan, we wore the same uniforms they have to wear and like the soldiers, we were only permitted to leave the base on the weekend or when our time was up. We spoke Hebrew and English with everyone, each side in their own way and had a few fun times with translations.

On Rosh Chodesh Sivan, I was told every Rosh Chodesh, the sephardi minyan has a “celebration” and everyone must come and have something, make a loud bracha for one and all to hear and then get along with their duties. We were welcomed with open arms and happy to help make the minyanim.

I admit, I wondered how the soldiers would view us, olim, Americans (one Canadian), that did not do the army and now volunteering to help out on the base. Every person we met was happy to see us, even if we did not work with them in their area.

Kol Hakavod, literally meaning all the honor, was said to us many times. Friends of mine, worldwide, not just in Israel, said the same thing once I let on what I was doing this past week. Many also said it afterwards which was humbling.

We wish we could thank every soldier that serves, from the religious to the non religious, being Jewish or not, young or old but we can’t so our work has to show our pride to them. Yes, older soldiers were on the base, we met some reservists and also local people that long ago retired but still come to the base to help. Why do they come? Because unfortunately our armies can never enjoy a good night sleep because we need to be ready for situations that escalate or appear out of nowhere.

Each person has their job and fulfills the truth from the Gemora, Shevuot 39a idea of “Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh” all Israel is responsible for one another. Everyone that lives here knows numerous kids in the army at any given time and those kids know as much as we depend on them in the front lines, they can depend on us to back them up, feed them, do their laundry or give them a ride to some place.

What did we do all week? We moved a lot of C rations (boxes of canned food, Kosher for Pesach for kitniyot and non kitniyot eaters) that would be food for field soldiers.

We built pyramids out of kit duffel bags, and also stored those in warehouses.

We sorted parts and pieces of various items that an army would have at its disposal. Some items I am pretty sure date back to the war years but the oldest year I saw stamped was 1975.

Nothing is wasted or left in the field, anything can be reused, potentially, especially in times of war when resources are scarce.

At night, after dinner, we had an hour or so discussion on Israel, the army and other topics that came up from our questions.

We did some other things too that we can’t talk about publicly, but we did not get issued weapons, we did not do guard duty, we did not get to shoot any weapons, we did not do basic training and we did not cook for the base, but we did enjoy some cigars we brought.

Israel and its people have great belief in God, but no one should be foolish enough to “Ein Somchim Al HaNes” from Pesachim 64b, which literally means one does not rely on miracles. Thus we prepare for many things, because there is no other answer, no one else will come when we call them. The scenario we face is similar to the last Star Wars movie where they sent a call out for help and the universe ignored it.

We know we walk this path alone because few have come to our aid in any other time of our need.

There is a strong sense of family to the army and anyone, no matter what your purpose, who is working with the army is seen as in this together.

My little part that Sar El and Nefesh B’Nefesh enabled me to perform is just one of the ways we, as a people, and country will survive.

I strongly believe that everyone who makes Aliyah should spend one week volunteering through this, or another program, if they were not army eligible. I hope Nefesh B’Nefesh continues to provide programs like this for everyone. If you live outside of Israel you can also do the programs through Sar El.

If after reading this you want to ask me anything about the experience, I am easy to find online and am happy to talk to you.

About the Author
Keith Brooks made Aliyah in 2014 with his wife, 3 kids, and their dog. Keith writes about his Aliyah, Israel and Jewish life in general. Keith advises B2B companies on how to approach their potential clients regarding pricing, marketing and sales pitches. Keith is a MassChallenge Israel mentor and an IBM Champion.
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