It was during the first few days following October 7th when I walked into our neighborhood cafe to help make sandwiches for soldiers that were on the front. It was monotonous work, but those couple of hours, became my escape from relentlessly checking my phone for the latest depressing updates of funerals and mobilization of armed forces down south. 200 sandwiches later, I would reconnect to the grim world around me.
At the end of the first morning, I was asked to come back (apparently I passed the QA test of cutting sandwiches) and I returned with a friend and my 17-year-old daughter. It was sometime during the second day of preparing sandwiches, that I suggested adding letters and drawings to the bags we were sending. I figured it could be a great way for the kids in our community to feel like they were doing something meaningful while bringing some joy to the soldiers.As the first week came to an end, we realized it was time to establish some guidelines on whom to prioritize when sending out the sandwiches and we agreed on:
- Soldiers from the neighborhood
- Soldiers recruited for reserve duty from the neighborhood
- Teachers from the local schools that were drafted
- Those fighting on the frontline and those injured
- And finally, our own family members that were (and many still are) out there.
We were a multi-generational team, mainly regulars, that came together for a common purpose. It was not trivial having people show up day after day, no matter what. It was not trivial, that 13-17 year olds, were getting up early, taking their school Zoom classes from the cafe and spending their days volunteering with us grown ups. Even our mothers joined some of the days (those well into the 8th decade of their life). We all put aside our daily commitments just to be there, to contribute. Nothing was trivial in this horrific reality we were, and still are, facing. But those hours at the cafe gave us a much needed break from it all.
I often asked myself what’s the secret ingredient that made those hours so magical? What made these people return day after day? To quote Dr. Sara Shadmi Wortman, Founder and CEO of the Varda Institute for Community Building where I work, we are aware that people come for the “what” – the sandwiches, and stay for the “who”, the team (aside from my irresistible charm?!), but perhaps there was something deeper at play here. Something more than that. Here are some of my thoughts:
- We were meeting face to face during difficult days, days, that in some ways felt like Covid times. No one was seeing people, at least not in social ways. It was great to have some in-person moments, not to mention to get some good hugs each morning.
- We each had a role, one cut open the hot sandwiches as they came out of the oven, others prepared them – 3 pieces of feta cheese, 2 roasted red peppers, some basil leaves, and don’t forget the olive oil and pepper. Then there was the packing crew, wrapping the sandwiches, packing them in bags and adding the letters and not to mention the challenging role of all – the counting (because who can count these days when our brains are full of fog?!). One needed to make sure each unit gets the right amount of sandwiches! We each knew what we were supposed to do (from set up to clean up) and we were like a puzzle that came together seamlessly. Sometimes, we switched roles.
- We really felt like partners ! We were all invested in the same purpose and we felt committed and significant in achieving it. We leaned on each other for success.
- In the end, we collaborated to achieve the same shared goal and promote a common good.
Ultimately, we had built ourselves a small, war-time, community!
Throughout these weeks, we diligently prepared and distributed probably thousands of sandwiches. Our sandwiches reached soldiers stationed in Gaza, and up on the Northern border, extended to air force pilots, and to intelligence units, and even reached American Marine soldiers stationed here. Not stopping there, we even made sandwiches for the medical unit responsible for identifying victims. We made sandwiches for the injured and for the medical teams tirelessly caring for them; we made sandwiches for “Shivas” of local soldiers who fell. We had the speical opportunity to make sandwiches and a full dinner (prepared by the community at large) for the Hostage forum and the families affected by the hostage situation.
The drawings and the letters were an integral part of the magic and when all the neighborhood children, and then some, were done contributing their drawings we approached our friends around the world and felt so grateful that so many of them generously contributed.
Each day we were reassured that we made a difference, that our efforts matter. The smiles and appreciation captured in short clips or photographs went a long way and kept us going. And even though, as we entered the 11th week of the war, our daily routine has shifted to weekly, this experience, the friendships that have been formed and the common purpose we promoted, have been engraved in all of us and for that I am grateful.
More than 80 days have past. Yet, in the face of these tough and challenging times, it’s incredible to witness how sandwiches have become more than food. They have served as a source of strength, bringing the community together, and bringing in a crack of light and hope in the midst of this seemingly endless darkness.