When America goes to war, you don’t really notice it. You don’t notice soldiers are dying. If you miss the evening news, you may not see the funeral notices.
When the bodies of soldiers return home, you don’t see the coffins. That would be too disturbing. You hear about those deaths mostly when someone in your own community has been killed-in-action.
In America, your everyday life is not affected. There are no air raid sirens, no incoming rocket alerts on the radio. The war is far away.
It’s not like that in Israel. In Israel, the war is right here, in your own city, your own location. I don’t know what previous wars were like here—I wasn’t here—but I can tell you what this war is like. I believe that every citizen in Israel south of Modiin (perhaps 80 per cent of our population) has heard an air raid siren go off. The population south of Tel Aviv has been under constant barrage for the last three weeks. This morning, I saw an acquaintance who lives near Gaza. He was in my own town visiting family. I asked him what it was like for him and his family. He said (in Hebrew), ‘many impact booms’.
You do not hear those words in America.
Israel is different from America in another way: we actively support our soldiers in a way most Americans do not—perhaps cannot—understand. For example, we constantly hear about what our soldiers need: wipes, food, underwear, socks, water. We shop for soldiers we do not know. We bake cookies and make sandwiches to deliver to them.
The highways south to Gaza are jammed with cars. They all head to our soldiers. They carry the gifts we have gathered for them.
You do not do that in America.
In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, we read that, when Israel faced the Philistines on the battlefield, David was not a soldier on the battlefield that day. He was not part of King Shaul’s Israel army. He was only there because, like many today, he was bringing food to his brothers, who were in Shaul’s army. He only got on to the battlefield, to confront the giant Goliath, because of what was happening when he arrived.
We do the same thing here today. We deliver necessities to the battlefield. Young reservists who have not been called up also travel to the battlefield. They go there to demand that they join their units.
During Shabbat services two days ago, our Rabbi made an announcement. He said, our soldiers in combat send their thanks to all of us for the gifts we have sent to them. Actually, the Hebrew word for ‘gifts’ he used (t’rumot) is not the normal word for gift (‘mahtahnah). The word he used comes from the Bible. It does mean ‘gift’, all right. But its reference has a religious-spiritual meaning.
We have a deep tie to our precious young soldiers. They risk their lives to protect us. They are not cipher-soldiers. We see them every day. We care for them.
Our Rabbi continued, saying, our soldiers thank all of us. But there is now a new need. Our soldiers need a place to sleep, rest and eat. They have a place to go away from the front line so they can sleep for one or two days. But they also need hot meals. We are asked to give cash, so food can be purchased for the purpose of cooking those meals. Please bring cash donations to ___ after Shabbat (we do not handle cash on our Shabbat).
In America, we never hear such an announcement. The war is never that close.
Israel may have the best army in the world, possibly because it’s gotten so much practice. But that war experience is expensive. For example, the anti-missile protection system we have, called the Iron Dome, is not cheap. Every shell fired at an incoming rocket is said to cost $50,000USD.
In the last three weeks, the Dome has fired hundreds of these shells. You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to figure out how expensive such protection is.
In Israel, the government pays for those shells. But that means that the rest of us pitch in to pay for socks, underwear and wipes.
We do not complain. We are at war. We understand what losing means. Buying underwear and tampons for our soldiers is the least we can do.
Last week, another call made the rounds. A request was circulating for money to purchase 500 pairs of combat boots. Earlier in the week, another call went out: female soldiers needed ‘feminine stuff’.
Shopping lists changed with each call. People in the supermarket loaded carts with extras. Boxes and bags were filled, cars loaded.
You do not do that in America. In America, war is always far, far away.
Here now is a letter from a soldier. The letter tells you something about the nature of the people who live in Israel, who send their precious youth to face our enemies. It also tells you something about our soldiers.
The letter was written in Hebrew, then translated. It appeared on the blog entitled, The Muqata. It was posted on July 24, 2014. A reader sent it to me:
What's happening here in the staging area [area where soldiers prepare to enter Gaza] is beyond comprehension, not rationally, not emotionally and beggars the imagination.
Almost every hour cars show up overflowing with food, snacks, cold drinks, socks, underwear, undershirts, hygiene supplies, wipes, cigarettes, backgammon and more. They're coming from the North and the Center, from manufacturers, from companies and private businesses, from prisons, Chareidim [the ultra-religious, who are often accused of being ‘anti-Israel’] and Settlers, from Tel Aviv and even Saviyon [I do not know where this is].
Every intersection on the way down here we get stopped, not by police, but be residents giving out food. What is amazing is that the entire situation wasn't organized and everyone is coming on their own without coordination between the folks coming.
They're writing letters and blessings, how they're thinking of us all the time. There are those who spent hours making sandwiches, and they're [the sandwiches] [are] as perfect and comforting as possible.
Of course, representatives of Chabad are here to help soldiers put on Tefillin and distributing Cha'Ta'Ts (Chumash, Tehillim, Tanya [religious texts]) for every troop transport, and Breslov are showing up to the border and dancing with the soldiers with great joy [not at the prospect of going to war, but as a way—the dancing—to serve G-d in a simple manner which all can understand—that’s the Breslov way].
The Chareidim are coming from their yeshivot to ask the names of the soldiers with their mothers' names so that the whole yeshiva can pray for them. It should be mentioned that all of this is done under the threat of the terrorist tunnels and rockets in the area.
Soroka Hospital (in Be'er Sheva) today looks like a 5 star hotel. A wounded friend who was recently discharged told us how the MasterChef truck is parked outside and is preparing food for the wounded.
It goes without saying the amount of prayer services that are going on [is great]. On the religious front as well, there are lectures and Torah classes, all the food is obviously Kosher. Shachrit, Mincha, and Maariv [regular prayer sessions] with Sifrei Torah. They're giving out tzitzit [a religious garb worn like an undershirt] and Tehilim [Psalms] by the hundreds. It's become the new fashion! The Rabbi of Maglan [Special Forces unit] told me that almost the entire unit has started wearing them, because the Army Rabbinate has been giving out tzitzit that wick away sweat. They're gaining both a Mitzva and a high quality undershirt. We've started calling them "Shachpatzitzti" (a portmanteau of the Hebrew term for body armor and tzitzit). We're having deep conversations late into the night without arguments, without fights and we find ourselves agreeing on most stuff.
We're making lots of jokes at Hamas's expensive and without politics. There's lots more to add but my battery is running low and the staff has been requesting someone give a class on Likutei MoharaN (Breslov).