Writer, translator, editor
“We’re not from around here,” I say, displaying a facial expression that seems half facetious, half tongue-in-cheek. Ariella cracks up. “Of course you’re not from here! Now come here to the storeroom, I want to give you some donations I’ve received.”
We’re at the small grocery store in Urim, a desert kibbutz, not far from the Tzeelim army base, which is where we’re heading. We had stopped because my passenger, Adi, whom I picked up on the way, had received a call from the base, asking him to buy some food supplies for Shabbat. I had stopped on the side of the road while Adi was on the phone. At that stage, there was no point continuing if we were to first go shopping. Being only 10 minutes away from the base, we weren’t sure we’d find somewhere, but then I noticed where we had stopped: Just after the turnoff to Urim. We turned around and headed the very short distance back. There had to be a grocery store on the kibbutz. The soldier-guard at the entrance good-naturedly directed us to the store. His long, curly red hair and infectious smile stood out against the plain, dusty backdrop.
So now we’re in the shop and Ariella, the owner, finds us wondering around. She gifts us with a packet of Turkish coffee – can never have enough of that – and a crushed box of cigarettes. She can’t sell it like that. Then she leads us to the storeroom where she fills a bag with sweets, and Adi places a carton of energy drinks and a carton of 7UP in the trolley – also donated. The rest of the trolley is filled with bags of pretzels, chips, and sunflower seeds (garinim), which Adi actually pays for.
“My phone number is on the receipt. Call me if you need anything,” Ariella tells us, as we thank her and leave. I photograph her phone number and send it to Adi. On the way out, I notice a poster of an Urim resident who is being held hostage. Louis Har, age 70. Bring him back home.
We wheel the trolley to my car and add to the cargo of kiddush delicacies from Hillel Kuhr of Kibbutz Shaalvim, and two hundred home baked challot, thanks to the initiative of Shira Katz of Modiin. I have parked in the shade of a tree, under which we see a soldier seated at a picnic table where she is spreading a large croissant with cottage cheese. She is part of the elite Oketz canine unit. Her job is to rescue dogs injured in action and to assist the vet in treating them at the army veterinary clinic. She is friendly and polite, and wonderfully refreshing to talk to. Her name is Hila. We say goodbye and continue to Tzeelim.
I require permission to enter the base. Even though permission had been obtained, there are still several checks that need to take place. I already know my way around the base a bit, and we stop at the shul to offload the goods. Itamar, with his beard, long payot (sidelocks), and large knitted kippah comes out to help us. We stack the boxes and bags on the table and I agree to a cup of coffee- Turkish of course. There isn’t anything else. Adi teases Itamar about finding a wife. Itamar displays mild annoyance, so Adi stops.
“You should know,” Itamar says, “this food for kiddush makes a huge difference for the soldiers. It’s a taste of home for them, as though they were at their neighbourhood shuls during normal times. It really lifts their spirits.” I make a mental note to tell Hillel.
He opens up the box of challot and marvels that they’re home baked. Each has a colourful note attached. I get invited to come for a Shabbat. Maybe I’ll take them up on it; come with one of my boys. But for now, it’s time to go.
Back home, I mention to my tenth grader about Hila’s work in the army. She’s dog crazy.
“Yes, maybe,” she replies.