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Avi Lewis

Something special is happening now in Israel

A relative of mine was going through a messy divorce.

He was in pain, felt broken and had no direction.

Then the war broke out on October 7th.

He quickly joined a volunteer group that ferry soldiers to the frontlines, deliver care packages and set up barbecues and food stands outside of army bases.

He’s never worked harder in his life – going to sleep most nights at 3am and waking up again at 6.

It’s totally voluntary. He hasn’t earned a cent.

A month ago, he was man defeated: hollow, depressed and anguished.

Today his eyes beam with light, he runs about with energy and enthusiasm; his words are filled with purpose.

He is a man reborn.

Just like my relative, something special is happening now in Israel.

Empty houses, condos and AirBnB apartments that have been handed over to displaced families free of charge.

People that drop everything to attend a funeral of someone they don’t know or to comfort a bereaved family.

Young grandparents have joined local volunteer security units to protect their communities.

Those at home coordinating donations from abroad, setting up ad hoc logistics centers, and caring for families whose fathers, husbands and sons have been enlisted.

Tech workers that spend their days getting Israel’s message out to the world.

Villages that have adopted entire kibbutzim from the Gaza border region.

Restaurants that prepare meals en masse for local IDF bases.

Teenagers that hand out blue and white flags at traffic stops.

It’s beautiful to witness.

What do all these initiatives have in common?

They are all 100% grassroots and uncoordinated.

No top-down directive, no government ministry, no policy or law.

It’s all bottom up.

The old hierarchies have been displaced.

In a society of leaders, leadership today is leading from the ground up.

There’s a palpable energy under the surface.

It’s like an imperceptible beat that the whole country is dancing to in sync.

You see it in the quiet pride of tens of thousands of parents that send their sons and daughters to defend their country.

You hear it in the conversations of hope that replaced conversations of despair.

You feel it with every warm and concerned smile on the street.

Israel has come alive with a vigor and optimism that was scarcely believable a short while ago.

This past summer at the height of the Judicial Reform crisis, my wife and I went for a late afternoon Shabbat stroll with the kids in our neighborhood in Jerusalem.

It was the day before the ‘Reasonableness Clause’ was due to be voted in by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Tens of thousands of protesters had marched up to the capital.

Along the way they passed through our neighborhood.

The contrast between us and them was telling:

They had spent the past week hiking up Highway 1 in the heat, accompanied by drums, horns and banners.

We were dressed in our Shabbat clothes pushing around a stroller and surrounded by a gaggle of excited kids.

We stood and offered our bottle of water to a group of incoming marchers.

One of them broke away from the parade and graciously accepted it.

“Nothing is worth this hatred,” he said with a sad look on his face.

There’s something about that moment that stuck with me.

I spent the next few days daydreaming about how best to respond.

Meanwhile each new headline pierced the soul with the thought that we’re tearing ourselves apart.

The man was absolutely right – none of it was worth all the hatred and anger.

The alternate realities, narratives, rallies and echo chambers pre-October 7th pulled us apart.

Albeit under tragic circumstances, the post-October 7th reality has brought us together.

Here in Reserve Duty, long nights together give way to deep, intense conversations.

We don’t always see eye to eye.

And perhaps that’s the point.

Always respectful, this type of dialogue is exactly what was so sorely lacking in Israeli society over the past year.

And these discussions are are being replicated across the country as we speak: in tents, on bases, in the field, in armored vehicles, in command centers, around campfires and on long bus rides.

Religious and secular, right wing and left wing, Orthodox, Haredi, Masorti, Hiloni and National Religious, Kibbutznikim, Moshavnikim and those from the settlements, Jerusalemites and Tel Avivis, those that believe and those that don’t believe (with a passion), Haaretz readers and Channel 14 viewers.

October 7th reminded us that we’re all in the same boat together, being pounded on all sides by the same storm.

If anyone at either the end of a boat begins drilling into the hull, it’ll sink all those aboard.

Within the multiplicity and diversity that is Israel, we work together and cooperate in order to get the job done.

We have once again discovered that the ‘other’ was actually just ‘us’ all along.

Last week I got to go home for an evening to see my family.

On the way, dressed in my IDF uniform, I stopped by a cafe and ordered a coffee and pastry.

“You’re not paying for that, it’s free of charge,” the storeowner motioned behind the counter.

“No really, it’s OK, I’m happy to pay – I’m just in Miluim (Reserve Duty), this is small change,” I replied.

“You’re not paying. Soldiers eat free,” he responded.

That evening, as my wife and I sat down at a restaurant, the waitress approached us and said that a couple seated at a table nearby wanted to pay for any dessert item on the menu that we choose.

I heard a similar story of a bunch of soldiers that had gone for dinner at a local eatery.

One of the patrons quietly approached the waitress and offered to add 100 shekels to cover their bill.

“I’m sorry,” replied the waitress, “you’re the 5th person to approach me with that offer, and I’m afraid that their bill has already been totally covered by other diners here.”

You need to experience this stuff to understand the full gravity of what’s taking place.

In these moments I think about my relative and the transformation he has undergone is such a short time span.

Crisscrossing the country along with his ad hoc crew of volunteers, feeling more alive than ever before, tapping in and connecting to the beauty of Am Yisrael.

In some ways he is a microcosm of Israel.

He escaped despair and helplessness through giving.

We escaped the incoming collision of civil breakdown through a newfound sense of unity.

He filled his life with generosity and in turn saw the kindness of those around him.

We renewed our social covenant after receiving a painful reminder of who we are.

He got a new lease on life.

And so did we.

About the Author
Avi was formerly a news writer at the Times of Israel. Originally from Australia, he served in the IDF and today works in Israel's thriving Hi Tech sector in Tel Aviv. He lives near Modi'in with wife and 3 kids
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