To the Front and Back–Again!

A week and a half ago, I wrote about a visit I made to the Gaza front lines along with a group of people from Maale Adumim (see here ). That visit was incredible and came, literally, on the eve of the ground offensive into Gaza.

As a result of our still having troops on the ground, and the fact that they were actually IN Gaza, led this original group to expand and revisit the area, once again. Under the direction of Yehuda and Yoni, an official name was given to the project, and it was called “Project Socks.” Among the many needs of the soldiers is army socks that many did not have as they left their homes when called up to the reserves. This was the idea behind the name of the Project.

This “trip” actually began late last night, as many volunteers crowded into Baladi (restaurant in Maale Adumim) to cut, bread, fry and then make schnitzel sandwiches. This operation lasted until 3am and would be a major part of the food delivery the next day.

We left early in the morning and headed straight to Be’er Sheva. The ride was, thank G-d, uneventful. We went back to the same two stores we had made purchases on the last visit. This time, we were greeted in both places by employees and managers with hugs and wishes of “good luck” to us all. They once again thanked us for patronizing their businesses and sent us on our way.

Until now, this day had been more or less a “normal” day. As we headed further south, and headed into a (literal) war zone, things became a little strange. The further south we went, the clearer the sounds of the BOOMS were. While there were very few Color Red alerts at that time, the booms were coming from Gaza and grew louder, the closer we arrived at the various destinations.

Our first stop brought us to a location that was the first of three field locations we would visit. Here, we were greeted by very grateful soldiers. They were grateful in terms of seeing us come there and for the food and other supplies that we brought in. We spoke to them, heard more booms VERY close to us…took a few pictures and were on our way.

The second stop was even more remote and was considered even more “in the field.” To get ON to that location, we needed (and received) special permission to enter the area. Once on location, one of the first things that struck us (besides ALL the machinery of war that we saw!) was the sand in which we walked to arrive where the soldiers were stationed. Calling it sand is a misnomer. It was more like a mix of dust, sand and baby powder. I had never seen anything like it in my life.
It was at this second location that we provided the 500 schnitzel sandwiches that had been made the night before (yes, they were kept cold) and the soldiers again were just so grateful for everything! They loved the food, the supplies, the letters, the home made baked goods and every good wish we passed on to them. We listened to them talk. We knew that many of them had BEEN in Gaza and may indeed be going back in, and we were all struck by their unshakable Emuna (faith) and the smiles on their faces. We were looking right into the eyes of true heroes.

Our third stop was at yet another location in the field. And, once again, the story was the same here. In all locations, the love, the caring, the gratitude were overflowing. And in ALL the locations, the message back to everyone else was the same: They wanted us all to know and to transmit that the love they were feeling from “out there” and the unity that they felt from all over was indeed what was helping them more than anything else at all. 

The final phase of this day was a visit to Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva. There are over forty soldiers in various degrees of injury who are hospitalized at Soroka. We decided to choose a floor where were were told there are injured soldiers and attempt to see them.

It was probably one of the most emotional parts of the entire day. A few of us spoke to the father of one soldier (the boy was asleep). The family had made Aliya from France many years ago. The father was astounded at the outpouring of love, care, good wishes and brachot (not to mention the food!) that continuously poured in to the hospital. We witnessed hundreds of people coming to visit soldiers whom they did not know–all they knew was that they were fellow Jews, who were injured defending Am Yisrael! This father told us of a Russian girl who spoke no Hebrew who stood there for 10 minutes giving brachot in Russian to her son, as tears streamed down her cheeks.

We also visited an Ethiopian soldier (his family also were Olim, from Ethiopia) who is to be released with G-d’s help, in the next day or so. Again, we heard amazing stories from him and his family who sat by his side.

The one main message from all our visits and all of what we witnessed is that we, as a People, as a Nation are an incredible group with powers beyond our wildest dreams. The love and feeling of oneness was overwhelming. 

May we continue on this path; may all of our soldiers be home in peace and health soon and may Hashem eradicate our enemies speedily in our days.

(Special thanks to all the participants: Yehuda, Meir, Yakir, Yoni, Coby, Moshe, Eric, Elan, Rivka, Miriam, Baruch, Larry, Reeva, Stanley and Avichai)


About the Author
After living in Chicago for 50 years, the last 10 of which Zev Shandalov served as a shul Rav and teacher in local Orthodox schools, his family made Aliya to Maale Adumim in July 2009. Shandalov currently works as a teacher, mostly interacting with individual students.