Tamar Bat Yehudit

The Kindness of Being Here Now (Israel 2023)

“Harmony” by Noah Pollack

For those of us here now in this land called Israel

There is an aspect of current reality which those further away might be unaware of

And which is well worth knowing about

It’s the profound felt connectedness between everyone who is here, whether they’ve lived here all their lives or showed up a week before Oct 7th.

The unfolding events of THAT DAY brought with it a recognition that it could have been any of us

Actually it almost feels like it did happen to all of us

And so the concern and considerateness towards those whom we love extends to everyone we meet now

This tenderness and mutual care is felt and communicated through every glance and important or unimportant interaction with strangers and kin alike.

We all know that nothing and none of us will ever be the same again

Just as a deep soul part of each of us knows that we have been bound by mystical agreement to be alive at this time

This togetherness overrides the specific details of each one’s story.

It doesn’t matter at all whether someone is a survivor from the South or from the Nova festival and witnessed the worst horrors from close up. Or whether ones beloveds were killed or taken hostage or are still missing and unaccounted for. Whether they were among the soldiers to first enter the line of fire and discover with their own eyes what had been perpetrated. Whether they work in hospitals. Whether they work in collecting or identifying the bodies of the murdered. Whether their homes were burned and all their possessions lost. Whether they’ve been internally displaced from the locations closer to Israel’s borders. Whether they live in a place subject to daily rockets barrages accompanied by the terribly anxiety-provoking warning sirens that alert residents to take shelter. Or whether their boys, girls, and men are serving in the IDF as current soldiers or as reserve soldiers. Whether a soldier or police officer themselves. Whether they carry the weight of decision-making militarily or politically. Whether they’re suffering financial insecurity as a result of everything. Or whether they’re suffering tremendous anxiety and dysfunction as a result of everything. Whether something very difficult is happening for them in their personal or relational life that’s seemingly unconnected to the situation but of course unavoidably connected. Or whether they’ve always identified as politically right wing or left wing.

The natural outgrowth of this love and interconnection is an overwhelming amount of voluntary and unconditional mobilisation towards meeting the huge and gaping needs of one another.

Actually, Israel is operating at least partially as a gift economy these days.

Following are some examples of these initiatives. The truth is that this list is far from complete because there are things I have likely forgotten or am unaware of. And because of the countless “smaller” and unknowable more personal kindnesses happening. And because this list is growing as I record.

(Also, I began to feel weirdly conflicted as a worked on this. Please see post-script below)

~ The estimated 300 000 – 500 000 evacuees from locations near the Southern and Northern borders have been absorbed by entire communities and hotels in the central areas of the country.

Contractors have offered brand new apartment complexes for free housing, while volunteers arrived to clean up and install furnishing and appliances.

Massive donations of clothing, food, and games & toys for kids have been collected, sorted, packed up, and delivered. Many many families and kids have also been involved in all of these efforts as they’ve had either no school or part-time school.

And far beyond the basics – the displaced are being provided with therapeutic treatments of many kinds (art therapy, movement, touch), beautiful music events, and activities for the children. Play areas and temporary schools have been set up. Retired teachers and student teachers are volunteering to teach the kids.

Large amounts of money have been donated to this cause, including via individuals who have used their social platforms to make this happen

There is a coordinated project to collect dirty laundry, wash, dry, and return it clean to evacuated families that are staying in places without access to washing machines.

~ Hundreds of thousands of reserve soldiers being called up suddenly to their army units, and often to strategic locations that are not necessarily permanent army bases means that they need to be provided for on a large scale and immediately. Networks of Jewish communities locally and worldwide have collected and delivered all kinds of protective gear, flashlights, medical equipment, sleeping bags etc.

Kitchens across the country have been filled with activity. Some homes and restaurants have even koshered their kitchens in order to provide food for religious soldiers. There is also a coordinated effort to provide healthier/ vegan food options. Each delivery is complete with colorful letters of love and support; usually from kids!

A Bedouin community provides hot food for soldiers who are located in a sensitive location on the Northern front where it is difficult to reach them with adequate kitchen supplies.

Many religious men and kids have spent hours knotting tzitzit (the traditional jewish fringed vest garment) for the soldiers as an embodied prayer for their protection.

For the women soldiers, hundreds of boxes of pads, tampons, moon cups and yeast infection treatment ingredients have been sent out.

And of course there are all the volunteers who transport the goods from givers to receivers.

Musicians and other entertainers are volunteering at army bases to bring relief and inspiration to the soldiers.

A massive truck containing washing machines and dryers showed up at some army bases – a mobile laundromat! There are also barbers going around to give the soldiers free haircuts.

There was a huge printing initiative of sacred books and Psalms to deliver to the soldiers. Many rabbis have been visiting army bases to bless and encourage the soldiers and have been offering to put on tefillin (phylacteries) for soldiers who may not usually practice this tradition, but welcome the opportunity for extra support and inspiration during this time.

~ The organisation known as ZAKA is a fully volunteer based organisation which collects and buries the bodies of those who have been killed. Their services have never been more needed, and their task more trying.

Volunteers have collected DNA samples to help identify the dead.

There have also been many many volunteers who have dug hundreds of graves.

Every funeral has been overflowing with strangers showing up in solidarity. And too, at the traditional seven days of shiva mourning following the funerals.

~ An organisation has set up informal “war rooms” to pool resources in order to try to locate those that have been kidnapped via artificial intelligence and online content, and verify who is alive and who is not. This information gets passed along to the IDF and security forces.

~ Free psychological help in every language is available throughout the country. There is of course a focus on trauma, as well as programs to train practitioners in trauma work specific to the needs of this time.

~ There was an overwhelming number of civilians showing up to donate blood once the call was received. People waited in line patiently for 2, 3, 4 hours to have their turn to contribute.

~ For the anxious and overburdened spouses of soldiers – volunteers have been making them food, babysitting, helping around the house, taking their dogs for walks so they don’t have to, and pampering them with facials, massages, and spa days.

There’s been a really sweet project of sending the traditional shabbat flowers to the mothers and partners of those serving in the army.

~ Individuals have been offering their services free of charge to refugees, to active duty soldiers and to their spouses (massages, manicures, optometry appointments, taxi rides, different healing modalities)

~ There have also been “micro-grants” offered to keep many of these grassroots initiatives going.

~ Mini market days have been organised for business owners from the South and the North so that they can have the opportunity to sell their products and produce and receive support

~ Many well known and lesser known musicians have been showing up with gorgeous music and encouragement for those wounded and being treated in the hospitals. Many of the patients are children who have lost family members and parents. A group of hasidim showed up to do a giant hasidic dance for the patients!

~ Thousands and thousands of volunteers have been working on the agricultural farms in the South because most of the Thai workers have left the country and because so many of the local workers are on reserve duty.

~ Schools have been adopting “shelter schools” (temporary schools set up for evacuees) and collecting games, toys, backpacks and school supplies for them. Schools have been hosting activity days for kids whose fathers are serving in the IDF.

~ Wounded and abandoned animals, or animals whose owners have died have been brought from the South to safe shelters. There are volunteers who try to match families with their missing pets. Many others have temporarily adopted the pets of reserve soldiers. Those who work with animals are offering guidance to pet owners to help animals through their anxiety triggered by the sirens and from the traumas they’ve been through.

~ Massive international prayer groups have been coordinating prayers and Psalm readings on behalf of the soldiers, the captives and their families, and every person in need of support.

Individuals are also matched with the name of a specific soldier for who they pray daily.

Many online and in-person peace meditations have been held, and community gatherings of music, sharing, and upliftment.

~ A news update service known as ‘Taking Responsibility’ provides concise daily news highlights via whatsapp to reduce stress and screen-time and includes a good news item at the end of each update.

~ There are initiatives which match up between members with mutual needs for support (empathy calls, taking walks, praying and singing together, sharing hugs) and coordinate times for sharing inspirational content and good news, both personal and national.

~ There have been some really touching stories of soldiers and their brides who were scheduled to marry within the last month but their plans obviously had to change. So there have been weddings at army bases – everyone in army fatigues including the groom, and one lovely bride in white. There have also been arrangements for surprise reunions at army bases between fiancés on the day of their planned weddings so they could symbolically mark the special day with celebration and music while pushing off the marriage date for a later time.

~ There has been an online solidarity match up between Ukranians and Israelis sharing tools and strategies for getting through these times on an emotional level and on a business level.

~ Volunteer guards provide protection in shifts at the entrance to villages, kindergartens, and schools.

~ Social media is filled with queries about where donations and help is needed. And when a specific request pops up online, there are hundreds of positive responses and offers of help.

~ Many many demonstrations, art installations, living art installations, and petitions have been coordinated as a prayer and an outcry for those who have been kidnapped, and as an act of solidarity with the families of those who have been kidnapped. There is a woman who has gained popularity in the last couple of years who dresses up as a clown police woman (back then she was present at political demonstrations) and hands out heart stickers and brings much needed joy and laughter to everyone she encounters.

~ In the village of Be’eri where some of the worst atrocities were committed, some soldiers actually broke into an abandoned plant nursery (leaving a big apology/ explanation notice) and took care to water each and every plant, restoring life and beauty; and business to the owners.

* * *

The list goes on and will go on. A moment or two to celebrate this is a big big blessing.

I think that probably none of us knew the extent of the generosity that we are capable of. And the sustainability of giving without condition. My hope is that this understanding remains with us and becomes an integrated part of our lives in some way as time goes by. Because I’ve felt it myself and heard it expressed by others – this giving is our lifeline. This being in service is the way we get through the most trying times. And so is the receiving of support.

It is an experience of flow, giving and receiving, right hand and left hand, a circle of love.

Post Script: As I wrote and edited this I had a strange mix of feelings happen. One big one being the heavy awareness of how much worse things are elsewhere. Yeah, in Gaza. And the West bank. And in countless other dark places. Is it guilt that I feel? Alongside the empathy? Am I allowed to note the collective pain and resulting beauty while others have it worse? Can I hold appreciation and mourning at the same time?

So. I just offer a prayer. That just as hatred and violence seems so spread so easily and so wide, let benevolence and sweetness spread further still.

About the Author
Tamar bat Yehudit is a writer, artist, and musician. Originally from South Africa, Israel has been her home for over twenty years. Tamar lives in the Jerusalem hills and is a mother of three.
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