I have spent the last week with ten friends in uniform on an IDF base in the Galilee. It is the second time this year that we have gathered together to volunteer to help our military under the auspices of the Sar-El/Volunteers For Israel Program.
All but one of us are olim from the US and Canada and we range in age from 60-80. The one who is still living in the US is from the Boston area. He joined us for the first time in February of this year and enthusiastically rejoined us for this second round. He is also here for a very special event – his daughter, who recently made Aliyah and is serving in the IDF, was being honored at military headquarters as an outstanding soldier. It’s an Israeli kind of story – a father and his daughter both finding a way to help in the defense of the country.
For the most part, we are sons of the WWII generation – a number of our parents were Holocaust survivors, products of the DP camps or our dads were combat soldiers in Europe or the Pacific. I have a strong recollection of my dad saying to me and my brothers “We served so that our own sons would never have to.” Surely the last seven decades have shown how overly optimistic that statement was. In any event, our parents’ influence and our own early life experiences have surely been reflected in our desire to make Aliyah and to now try and find a way to serve our country, even though we have all arrived here at a mature stage of life.
Our work on this army base, which exists as a training ground and staging area for reserve combat soldiers who would likely be called up to defend the northern border, revolved around the large combat backpacks that soldiers would quickly be issued in an emergency situation.
The combat packs need to be checked for readiness and completeness, each crammed with gear and weighing some 65 pounds. We’ve all been amazed at the number and diversity of items crammed into each one. The uniforms, goggles, sleeping bag, knee pads and water bladder are standard things, but we were all more focused on other items of a more serious nature— ammunition belts, body armor, camouflage, a tourniquet. That’s when you stop and think for a moment —- our sons and grandsons will be using these packs in the inevitable conflicts that arise here. I know I am not the only one who became a bit emotional thinking about this.
I was motivated to send a picture of what I was working on to my son-in-law who is an active reservist in the Kfir Brigade. He texted back immediately: “We are issued those exact backpacks…they are back-breaking. But those packs are literally every soldier’s lifeline.” I stopped the volunteers I was working with and read this to them lest they doubted for one moment that what we were being asked to do was lacking in importance.
On my way back to the barracks I was thinking that I’d never be doing this at my age in the US. But Israel is wholly different — we are truly home, we are part of the story of this country, we each have a role to play and we are still able to contribute in a meaningful way. I am truly grateful for the Sar-El volunteer program helping me to do that.
In the tiny beit knesset on the base, where we prayed each morning before starting our work, I found myself focusing on these words of Jeremiah (17:7) in the shacharit prayer:
ברוך הגבר אשר יבטח בה’ והיה הי מבטחו
Blessed is the man who trusts in Hashem, then Hashem will be his security.
May Hashem bless and protect every one of our soldiers always.