Monday, June 7, 2010

"You make us strong."

Yom shlishi, 26 Sivan 5770.
Three beautiful chayalim greet us with smiles and stories.
They are young and beautiful children.  They are out on the streets at night, in some pretty lousy neighborhoods.  Some of them don't have homes to go to after hours.

Happily, they are not "lost children" or "off the derech kids."

They are the young men and women in uniform, who watch our highways, putting themselves in constant danger so that we can travel and live and sleep safely.

Of course, many of them are from families that have lived in Israel for generations.  ("I'm from Haifa; but my grandfather came from Syria."  "My family is here already seven generations, from Morocco.")

But many of them are olim, just like we are.  They are from Canada and Ukraine and Kazakhstan.  Some of them are here without their families -- and perhaps Standing Together is even more important to them.

According to its mission statement, Standing Together is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting Israeli soldiers on active duty, and is funded totally by donations from concerned Jews throughout the world. It is a voluntary organization with no offices, almost no employees and no expense accounts.

The Dearly Beloved and I had the privilege of joining a small band of volunteers, lead by the founder of Standing Together, David Landau.  When we should have been heading off to sleep (and when many of the soldiers' contemporaries might just be starting up the night's entertainment), we drove out to some of the area machsomim (checkpoints) to visit our heroes.
Their families live not far from each other.  "Did you know each other before the army?"  "No -- we met here.  But we feel like we knew each other since we were born.  We are brothers.  The army makes you feel that way."

We gave them stickers with "love notes" on them.  "Give me more stickers!  The more, the better!"
The sticker says: "Dear Soldier!  Jews all over the world value and appreciate the holy service that you and your comrades do on behalf of the Nation of Israel.  All of us "stand together"!!  We will be happy to hear from you..."
We gave them ice cream and Elite candy bars from David's special refrigerator truck.  (In the winter, he and his volunteers make warm pizza and hot coffee available, among other delights.)  They gave us back the most beautiful smiles.
I have had the pleasure of going out on a couple of these missions since we have been in Israel.  Each time, my heart is moved by the beauty of these kids, their sweetness, their devotion, and their gratitude.  Every time we would thank them, they would thank us ten times more.  "You make us strong," one soldier said.

It's enough to make a mama weep.

My new friend (and also a neighbor!), Chaya Mandelcorn, writes for Makor Rishon newspaper.  She also couldn't stop smiling, and told stories of her mother.  "She would walk around hugging every one of them if she were here!" she said.  "It would catch them off-guard -- but they would love it!"
If you live here, give yourself the treat of spending a few minutes with a holy Israeli soldier.  As you expect, you will go with the intention of strengthening the soldiers.  As you also know, you will walk away strengthened by them.  This is especially good therapy if you worry that you're not doing enough, or if you're a little depressed, and want someone to lift your spirits.

If you still live abroad, think about arranging a mission with David and Standing Together when you are in Israel.  Nothing makes you feel more like part of the Jewish story than being permitted to participate, rather than just being a tourist.
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