Standing in Solidarity with Israel

Standing in Solidarity with Israel

Throughout the challenges of this summer in Israel, we have received tremendous support from our clients around the world. Rather than cancel trips, our dedicated community has decided that there is no better time than now, following Operation Protective Edge, to plan a trip to Israel.

Temple Chai of Phoenix recently joined us on a Solidarity Mission to Israel, including visits to the communities of southern Israel, security briefings from political and military leaders, and volunteering with soldiers and families affected by the war. The following impressions are based on the reports of Debbie Blyn, President of Temple Chai:

Dilemmas and perspective

It has been a journey of learning and discovery. We met with a scholar of Islam, a prominent journalist, and a Palestinian from Gaza who now lives in Ramallah and is risking his safety to create dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian youth. We tackled the complex questions of proportionality that have been so prevalent in the media, including a class from Rabbi Bill Berk on the Biblical, Zionist and IDF viewpoints on the ethical use of force.

During a visit to the Tze’elim Army Base, we climbed on a tank that was recently used in Gaza and toured the Urban Warfare Training Center built to resemble a crowded Middle Eastern-style city. While we were walking the streets and entering the buildings of “Gaza”, IDF soldiers were conducting drills to simulate warfare situations.

In a fascinating onsite lecture, Col. Benzi Gruber explained that each IDF soldier has eight seconds to make a decision during combat, taking into account whether an act of force will accomplish the mission at hand, target the innocent, or incur collateral damage proportional to the immediate threat.

An IDF soldier in training in an Urban Warfare Training Center
An IDF soldier in training in an Urban Warfare Training Center
Rabbi Bill Berk and Colonel Bentzi Gruber on an IDF army base
Rabbi Bill Berk and Colonel Bentzi Gruber on an IDF army base

Soldiers and heroes

We had the opportunity to hear the stories of many IDF soldiers throughout our trip, including a reserve soldier whose job is to get humanitarian and medical supplies to Palestinians in Gaza and a combat engineer who was called up to reserve duty just one month after becoming a father. Both soldiers expressed hope that, one day, they could free Gaza from the grip of Hamas and create a better life for all.

At the Beit Levenstein Rehabilitation Center, we met with a prominent orthopedic surgeon who described the types of injuries common to soldiers in the Gaza war. We visited two young soldiers recovering from severe injuries. One was a 20-year-old paratrooper who was with of group of 16 soldiers – 15 of whom were injured in Gaza – after being sent in following their search for the three kidnapped teenagers in the Hebron area. We also met with a member of the Golani Brigade who has been in the hospital for two months recovering from a serious leg injury. Both soldiers expressed a strong desire to return to their army units once they are healed.

Showing support to the soldiers - face to face!
Showing support to the soldiers - face to face!

The resilience of the south

We were inspired by our meeting with the Lev Echad organization, which coordinates volunteer efforts to help Israeli citizens in times of crisis. During the Gaza war, they mobilized 20,000 volunteers in the south to help people who were homebound and could not get to shelters, visit doctors or buy food. They helped staff emergency shelters for children, because school was not in session and camps were canceled, yet parents needed to go to work.

We visited the Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon to see how medical professionals managed to treat the wounded under fire. This is the closest hospital to Gaza, and was the first stop for many injured soldiers and civilians. We met with Dr. Ron Lobel, who discussed the challenges of preparing for the mass casualties of war, including reinforcing parts of the building to withstand missile attacks discharging patients during times of high alert.

We visited some of the southern communities most impacted by the war, including Moshav Netiv Ha’asara, the closest Israeli community to Gaza. At the home of Barak Benjamin, we saw the safe room where his children slept during the war, because it was easier than moving them in the middle of the night. Their neighbor’s home was hit by a rocket, leaving behind shrapnel damage and a broken car windshield. Barak served for more than two weeks in Gaza on reserve duty. He referred to his service as “me and my friends went into Gaza”- not my company or battalion, but my friends. This is the common language of IDF soldiers. Barak spoke of the extreme discomfort he felt going into private homes in Gaza. Despite the fact that this was often a necessary part of a mission, his deep respect for others made it difficult to touch their personal belongings and see the inside of their homes.

Meeting youth from southern Israel in a program in the local bomb shelter
Meeting youth from southern Israel in a program in the local bomb shelter
A view from a moshav into the Gaza Strip
A view from a moshav into the Gaza Strip

Our next stop was Sderot, a city of 24,000 located less than a mile from the Gaza border. Because of its proximity, the Iron Dome cannot intercept many of the missiles heading to this city. When sirens sound, residents have only 15 seconds to get to shelter. We climbed a hill for a good view of Gaza, where many reporters and citizens stood throughout the war to see the fighting. There are still chairs left behind as a reminder of their presence.

We visited an indoor playground built by the JNF, with activities for children of every age, rooms for sports, and a safe room for birthday parties. This indoor space is critical to the safety of the youth of Sderot.

Conclusion

The trip was simultaneously inspiring and educational, providing us with different perspectives, opportunities to connect with those most impacted by the war, and a real feel for what life has been like on the ground in Israel lately.

To join an upcoming Solidarity Mission or create one for you community, click here.

Leave a Comment

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.