Not every hero wears a cape. This country is full of cape-less heroes. Scores of books will be written about them. Until then, I want to highlight a few special souls I have seen and met while in Israel.
There is a refugee humanitarian crisis in Israel. More than 200,000 souls have been evicted from their homes in the north and south of Israel. Hotels in resort towns of Eilat and surrounding the Dead Sea, which of course are empty because there are no tourists are here, have opened their doors to families and those without a place to plant themselves for the undetermined future. 200,000 people is more than can be satisfied in resort town hotels. Further, the Dead Sea and Eilat are very far from the rest of the country. These people need community now more than ever.
There are six five-star-hotels in Jerusalem. They are appointed with fine leather furnishings from Italy and specialize in customer service and breakfasts that will blow your socks off. Most of them are right near one another. Each has a name and a niche they cater towards. But only one of the five-star-hotels (I believe), the Inbal Hotel, under the leadership of General Manager Rony Timsit and Nahum Mazor, the VP of Inbal, opened their doors to refugees.
As we eat breakfast, there are families who were forced from their homes on the northern border of Lebanon, whose sweet little kids are innocently salivating over the pizza at the buffet, eating amongst us. Who knows how long they will be there. The parents look at them and are jealous of their innocence.
The hotel is not being paid by the government for these rooms. The refugees are not contributing a nickel, nor should they. The hotel is assuming a major financial loss, beyond wear tear, for this mitzvah. I applaud Rony and Nahum for leading by example and doing the right thing for these unlucky souls. They need capes!
Another cape worthy group
In Tel Aviv yesterday, we visited a narrow, almost communist architectural style building, smack in the center of town. The owner of the office space in the building started by donating an empty floor to the families of the hostages. Within a few days, he donated the entire building.
Each floor in the seven story complex is dedicated to a different angle of the crisis: media relations, foreign press, negotiations, proof of life, psychological support and so on. It was there we met with two family members, each dealing with different realities. Every single person working the phones, typing on computers, liaising between families and the media, or even those bringing in catering is a volunteer. Every single one.
We met with Meirav, the mother of 23-year-old Romy. Her daughter was doing what all 23-year-olds should have been doing on a holiday weekend, dancing at an outdoor music festival. She called her mom in a panic at 6:23 AM, when the barrage of rockets started to fly overhead. Romy was alarmed. Romy lives in the north. What did she know from sirens and rockets?
She was back and forth on the phone all morning with her mom. Calling in fright, tears and panic. At 10:12 AM she called her mom and said she was shot. Her best friend was shot too and wounded badly. The driver of the car they hoped to escape in was dead. Romy was in the backseat. She was in pain.
Her mother, intuitively understanding the severity of the moment, said to herself, if Romy is going to die from this gunshot, I want her to die knowing how loved she is.
Meirav began telling Romy all of the attributes and traits that made her so special. She told her all of the places they were going to visit as soon as she get back home. And she WILL get back home. She told her how loved she is.
Meirav heard her daughter moaning in pain. Then she heard Arabic and her daughter screamed. The line went dead.
About 24 hours later Romy’s phone was pinged to Gaza, which is why her family is confident she is being held there. We have no idea how severe her wounds are. We do not know if she developed an infection. No one knows if Romy is getting medical aid.
Meirav is a pillar of strength.
Dvir is the uncle of 9-month-old twins. Dvir makes me look scrawny. He is strong, tough and steely at first glance. His eyes and voice were worthy of a different body. Dvir is spent, exhausted, worried and breathless. I got the idea his tear-tank was running on empty. Both of the babies’ – his niece and nephew – parents were killed early in the morning on October 7th. The babies are orphans.
Thankfully, they are too little to remember the trauma their family is carrying. I am sure that each simcha, family Shabbat dinner, Siddur or Humash ceremony will be loaded with pain and anguish for the surviving family that these children will never fully comprehend.
What Dvir told us about how the babies survived is even more horrific. He only recently learned from the IDF and Police and Shaba’k what went down, since it has been proven that Hamas was not above brutalizing infants.\
The terrorists took the babies out of the dead hands of their parents in the safe room, and put them back in their cribs. There, they would lie hungry and in dirty diapers, and would surely cry. When IDF and first responders heard babies crying, instincts would compel them to run towards the sound.
The terrorists hid out on a roof and in bushes and assassinated every single responder who tried to rescue the babies. Hamas did not only kill 1400 people. They attempted to murder our ethos. They wanted us to second guess our intuitions of running towards helpless, crying babies.
Dvir and his family have the responsibility of mourning his sister and brother-in-law, looking after his parents who survived this tragedy and the loss of their children, and his family has the responsibility that is physical and equally emotional, to raise these children in as normal a fashion as humanly possible.
Meirav and Dvir need capes. The community supporting them right now needs capes.
A communal cape
The people of Tel Aviv have taken the square outside of the art museum and transformed it into Kikar Hatufim – Hostage Square. In the square, there are numerous art installations, countless pictures and signs and a national sit-in where families of the kidnapped are holding a 24/7 vigil. The vibe is like a hospital waiting room. People bracing for the worst and hoping for the best. This space has been a national catharsis center for near family members and the distantly connected civilian.
Everything in the square is donated, including the physical space. The food that is brought for people sitting, the songs sung, the raincoats and chairs are all an act of communal goodness.
The triage this space has offered is incalculable comfort and support to the entire nation of Israel. All involved need capes.
Gloves but no capes
I just left Barzilay Hospital in the center of Ashkelon. We visited wounded soldiers. They are scattered amongst the patients of the hospital that are suffering illnesses which do not know about war. Cancer doesn’t recede for war. Appendicitis doesn’t skip a visit for war. COVID does not know from war. But war brings in trauma. Lots of it. Especially when you are close to the battlefield.
This hospital was command central for the first and worst injured of October 7th, because of its proximity to Gaza. As a result, soldiers, doctors, nurses, volunteers have set up homes near the hospital for the family of injured to stay. One family told us that strangers gave them the key to their home and said, you are staying with us. We have stocked the fridge. We are staying with family in Tel Aviv, so you have this home to yourself while your son heals. Nurses and doctors and orderlies are working double and triple shifts with no overtime. Only because they need to. They want to. They have to.
There are not enough capes.
I have been coming to Israel most of my life. I have never felt a sense of unity and cohesion like we are experiencing now. There is a slight sense of shame to think that so many small arguments and bickering and divisions dominated the narrative for many years. It tore at our fabric except, it seems to have been elastic. We are snapping back.
I saw a sign near the Knesset on my way into town Sunday night. In Hebrew it said, Achdut Ad Nitzachon. The slogan translates to Unity until Victory. It flows in Hebrew, but the literal translation can be critically parsed. What happens after victory? What then? Is the unity done? How long will the inertia of war and unity last? Can we milk it for all its worth? For all that we will need in the aftermath of this war.
I sure hope we do not revert back to the bickering and debates. If so, we might have lost part of this war and its timeless lessons.