I called Gavriel earlier today. He lives in Israel and he has a small spice shop in Ashkelon. I try to visit him whenever I am in the south of Israel. I really like his small shop and all of its wonderful aromas. I usually buy a special spice for my Turkish coffee. I bring the spice back with me to New Jersey.
I asked Gavriel how he was doing. During the past 50 days we had spoken several times, and each time he assured me that he and his family were fine. In Ashkelon. With rockets and missiles raining down. He then told me that what buoyed him up, and what buoyed many of his friends up, was the outpouring of support from the Jewish Diaspora.
And then he said that what concerned him more that anything was the growing anti-Semitism outside of Israel. Really, Gavriel. That is what you are worried about, you, living in Ashkelon, working in Ashkelon, with missiles and rockets raining down, and you worry about the growing anti-Semitism outside of Israel? I’m worried, he said. Plain and simple.
Before he was murdered by Hamas terrorists, along with his partner, my best friend Beno had told me that if ever I wanted the best spices, nuts, raisins, sunflower seeds, anything of that kind, Gavriel’s spice shop in the old market section of Ashkelon was the place to go.
Beno and Ami, of blessed memory, were murdered June 25th 1992. When I visited Beno’s grave I paid a visit to the spice shop and I introduced myself. Gavriel welcomed me, and I guess he was kind of touched in a sentimental sort of way that I would visit his shop. I told him that I was living in New Jersey, and he invited me to visit whenever I found myself back in Israel. Over the many years I did exactly that.
I served many years as a reservist in a tank battalion. Itzik was the driver of our tank, and one day he saved my life. I would have bled out were it not for his quick action, and so because of that, but not only because of that, he has been my brother. He will be my brother until my last day on this earth.
Itzik and his family live in Ashkelon. I asked how he was doing. During the past 50 days we had spoken several times, and each time he assured me that he and his family were fine. In Ashkelon. With rockets and missiles raining down. His home does not have a safe room so he and his wife go to their daughter and son-in-law’s house when the Code Red sirens go off.
Itzik told me that he was doing alright, and we shared another brief conversation. He told me that I had better come to see him on my next visit to Israel, and I assured him that I would.
A couple of years ago I ran into Itzik’s daughter in the spice shop in Ashkelon. Do you shop here regularly, I had asked her? Of course was her reply.
I teach at a Hebrew School here in New Jersey and a colleague, a fellow teacher, visits Israel regularly to see her family in Ashkelon. Her visit this summer was not so pleasant, not for her and not for her family, with the rockets and the missiles raining down on them constantly.
A few years ago, she brought back a surprise for me from Israel, from Ashkelon, from Gavriel’s spice shop. I had asked her how she knew him and she told me that her family always shop there for the freshest, best spices anywhere.
Itzik, Gavriel, my colleague and her family were on the front lines of Israel’s war against Hamas. They and so many countless more Israelis went about their daily lives. They coped with the terrible disruptions of the Code Red sirens. They coped with the 24/7 news reports of rockets and missiles raining down on their homes, their synagogues, their work. They grieved. They supported each other. They visited hospitals. They went to work when possible. They stayed in safe rooms and in shelters.
They carried themselves with the utmost dignity during a period of great anxiety and stress. They are my heroes, my friends and my colleague. They are my heroes, their families. They are my heroes, the people of Israel.