Susannah Schild
Creator of Hiking the Holyland

The secret superpower of the Jewish people

Photo Credit: Susannah Schild

12 tactical army vests. 30 multi-tools. 270 ski masks.

I sat in bed on Saturday night with this shopping list at hand, the glow from my laptop illuminating the room in faint light. Seasoned online shopper that I was, I had never placed an Amazon order like this. Until that evening, I hadn’t imagined that one could buy some of these items on Amazon. But life is full of new experiences these days. With my son in Gaza and our country in the middle of war, I’ve learned some stuff.

Lesson 1: When Israel is faced with war on multiple fronts, and mobilization of 360,000 reservists, sufficient supplies are really difficult to obtain.

Lesson 2: In wartime conditions on the front lines, equipment breaks down. And it’s hard to replace.

Lesson 3: Jews are an incredible people, generous and caring. They are strongly connected to others in their clan.

And if they can, they will find a way to help.

These lessons brought me to Amazon that night. My journey into online shopping began when an old friend of my husband’s reached out, “We feel like your son is our own soldier. We are so proud of him,” he wrote, “Is there anything at all we can do to help his unit?”

Spurred to actual tears by his heartwarming request (war-time emotions), a chain of events unfolded. First, I checked in with the unit’s liaison, to see what was needed.  After he sent me the list, I messaged another friend, one who had already organized quantities of essential supplies to be brought into Israel from the United States. Many text messages later, I was filling up a shopping cart. Our friend in the US had managed to raise thousands of dollars for my son’s battalion.

I re-read his last message, “We all care about your son and his unit and want to help.  So, you should feel the love.” I really, really did. Now, it was my turn to pitch in. Amazon wish list, here we come – time to do your part in the fulfilling the Jewish mission!

I still can’t get over the deep compassion and benevolence I’ve seen since the start of this war. On some level, I’ve known about this quality of the Jews for a long time. It must be why Israelis feel like it’s their job to be involved in everyone else’s business, as opposed to maintaining the personal distance that is so valued in other parts of the world. At least Israelis actually care. Because of this, elderly grandmothers chide my daughter every time she takes her 2-year-old to the park without a hat (on a hot or cold day). Never mind that it’s actually quite shady in the park, and not that cold out anyway. Jews care about each other. And we have enough faith in mutual good will to reach out, to make contact. We all want to help each other.

This is no small matter in today’s lonely world. According to David Brooks, a cultural commentator and writer, “Two generations ago, roughly 60 percent of Americans said that “most people can be trusted.” By 2014, according to the General Social Survey, only 30.3% did, and only 19% of millennials. High trust societies have what Francis Fukuyama calls “spontaneous sociability,” meaning that people are quick to get together and work together. Low trust societies do not have this. Low trust societies fall apart.”

I had come across this passage describing my birth country that Shabbat afternoon, and a little light bulb went on in my head. The whole world may be falling to pieces, but Jews are different. Jews have compassion. They feel connected, despite differences or distance. They’ll be there for each other when things are tough. Jews feel as if they have skin in the game however far they may be from others in need.

Right now, El Al planes are flying into Israel full of passengers… yet returning to the United States with empty seats. We are all desperate to help in any way we can, by picking fruit for local farmers (like my visiting in-laws are doing), organizing supplies for evacuees, baking challah for soldiers, cleaning houses for evacuees – really, anything. We just want to help.

There’s a reason that the Jews in the US and other parts of the world are in deep pain, despite being far away from the war front.

Ours is not a society that has fallen apart.

So that’s how I found myself skimming through pages of black and army green ski masks for my son’s battalion on a Saturday night. That task may have been mundane, but the context was lofty. 270 baclava ski masks: these were a new request for our soldiers, and I had to choose carefully. Which masks would best protect our sons on cold and drizzly nights? I looked at fleece, and microfiber, and polyester, until landing on what I believed to be the perfect mask within our budget.

After several hours of online ordering, the supplies were on their way. In a few days’ time (thanks to the wonders that is Amazon), it would all be packed in a duffle bag by a Jewish stranger that I’d never met in my life. From there, my neighbor would pick up our supplies and transport them across thousands of miles of land, sky, and sea back to Israel. Next stop, Gaza, where my son’s battalion is stationed.

My son and his fellow troops probably stink after weeks without indoor plumbing. I did hear that they had one “shower.” They went to a beach, stripped down, and poured jerrycans full of water on each other. My husband’s grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, insists that this is no big deal. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” he says in his soft voice, “I’ve gone longer.”

As I’ve discovered lately, there are a lot of things I can do absolutely nothing about.

Our soldiers are tired and wishing for the comfort of a real bed. They pine away for hot food, another impossibility in Gaza. But while they blow up Hamas tunnels and rockets in Gaza, our soldiers will be outfitted in gear lovingly sent from Jews an ocean away. If Am Yisrael has any say in the matter, at least my boy won’t be cold.

After placing the order, I sent a message to Adir, the liaison for my son’s battalion, “You are amazing!” he replied, “Thank you so much!”

“Thank YOU so much!” I messaged back. For this man, suddenly thrust into a wartime task, is just another regular Jew who cared. Pretty sure I’m the one who should be thanking him.

And what about the soldiers themselves? Despite the seeming randomness of being thrust into war, they feel a passionate responsibility towards our peopleA responsibility to defeat our enemies, to bring back hostages, and to restore safety to our homeland. My son and his fellow soldiers may be just old enough to grow full beards. They may be requesting gummy candy on the front lines. But they all know that they’re part of something bigger and more important: a nation, a people, with unimaginable strength in their unity. And they want to be a part of that.

It’s going to be a long, wet week out there. At least now, it won’t be such a cold one. From Gush Etzion to Gaza, bodies and souls are being warmed by the power of Jewish compassion, a force so strong that it makes our nation unbreakable.

About the Author
Susannah Schild is the creator of Hiking the Holyland, Israel's premier English language hiking website and author of From Southerner to Settler: Unexpected Lessons from the Land of Israel. You can find out more, see the book, and join group hikes at
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