Recently I finished guiding the young professionals of the Manhattan Jewish Experience (MJE) on their annual Israel mission. The MJE, according to its website, “is a warm and open community where millennial men and women in their 20s and 30s can explore Jewish life and meet new people.”
Indeed the good people we met in our land were, in many ways, the highlight of our mission. This year we started in the Golan where we were privileged to meet with Captain (res) Yaakov. Captain Yaakov spoke about his experiences as an officer in the armoured corps during “Operation Protective Edge” and how much care is taken to avoid civilian casualties, and the high moral standards of the IDF. Captain Yaakov expressed to our group how proud he was to serve in such a moral and ethical army with such an emphasis on the sanctity of life. He shared emotional stories and recollections with us of “mateship” in the IDF both during the Yom Kippur War and today. He also shared with us accounts of the (largely unreported) humanitarian help that the people of Israel and the IDF have been offering Syrians during that country’s ongoing bloody civil War, despite the two countries having no peace treaty between them. Israel’s medical services alone have treated more than 3,000 Syrians wounded during their country’s conflict since 2013. He said Israel does this, because this is simply the right thing to do. Hearing from a face “beneath the helmet” deeply moved the participants. Not only did it humanise the defenders of our land, it broke stereotypes of the bloodthirsty Israeli soldier propagated on many North American college campuses and throughout the media.
Another group of special good people our MJE group was exposed to were the heroic young women and men who serve as lone soldiers in the IDF. We visited the Lone Soldier Center established in Memory of Michael Levin in Jerusalem (LSC), which was founded in 2009 by a group of former lone soldiers aware of and concerned with the needs and struggles of around 7,000 lone soldiers serving in the IDF.
In addition to two serving female lone soldiers from New York who impressed our group with both their maturity and idealism, as well as motivation to serve our country and people with a meaningful service, we heard from Suzanne Singer, the mother of Lt. Alex Singer, a lone soldier killed in Lebanon. Suzanne explained to our group how Alex died as he lived, leading by personal example from the front. Zionism gave a meaning to his life and he gave a meaning to Zionism by his life, and ultimately with his life. Alex’s story emphasises that it does not matter how long one lives, what matters is what one does with ones life. Suzanne shared how Alex lived a full life with no regrets.
Suzanne, her husband Max, and Alex’s family are also big supporters of the LSC. Indeed the walls of its Jerusalem branch are adorned with Alex’s inspirational writings and wonderful artwork. Thanks to the centers, lone soldiers are no longer alone. Non of this existed when Alex or Michael were in the army. The LSC offers many services for lone soldiers and is a “home away from home.” The centers operate from branches in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. They provide many useful services to lone soldiers such as, helping to finding housing, providing furniture, organising Shabbat and holiday meals, counselling, and most importantly a place to feel at home.
Another group of good people we met towards the end of our mission were the Doctors, staff and volunteers of “Save a Child’s Heart” (SACH) based at the Wolfson Medical Centre in Holon. The Save a Child’s Heart organisation provides life-saving cardiac surgery and other life saving procedures for children from developing countries free of charge. According to the mission statement on its website is,
An Israeli-based international humanitarian project, whose mission is to improve the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children from developing countries who suffer from heart disease and to create centers of competence in these countries. SACH is totally dedicated to the idea that every child deserves the best medical treatment available, regardless of the child’s nationality, religion, colour, gender or financial situation.
Our group went to volunteer at the recuperation center in Holon where the children and their parents or caregivers from developing countries are either preparing, or recuperating, from the surgery that will allow them to live normal lives. It is so important to give back by volunteering. Not only does it show our appreciation of our wonderful country, but also when one come to give one ends up receiving so much more back. Many of the MJE group were deeply moved and asked why there is so little awareness and appreciation in the outside world for all the good that Israel does for the world. Daniel Gordis succinctly summed it up when he stated that, in addition to striving for the benefit our own citizens,
This country has become a country, with all of its imperfections, that sees as part of its purpose as looking out for other people.
Israel will continue to provide aid and assistance to all those who need help, because it is the right thing to do. It’s in our genes. Together, we will overcome the darkness, and rebuild for a brighter future.
One of Israel’s most beloved singers, composers and songwriters, Naomi Shemer, wrote a song titled, “Anashim Tovim” (Good People). The Chorus of this song is an apt summary of the MJE Israel experience this year. In addition to the above mentioned people, we met so many other good people, ranging from Israelis who opened their homes to us, to inspirational religious leaders who inspired us with a deep love of our heritage. We understood that it is not a burden to be a Jew, but rather an honour and a privilege. Indeed there are so many good people, in the inspirational words of Naomi Shemer,
Good People in the middle of the journey,
Very good people.
Good people know the way,
And we can continue walking with them.