Today, instead of having the traditional mangal, or barbeque with friends, we decided, together with those friends to take the mangal to an army base.
Several weeks ago a message was sent out to the Modi'in listserve (You know the type of internet list where people post things like: "If you're giving away your I-Pad for free, I'm looking for one". Or: "For sale: 20 year old couch that the dog only peed on once a day for 20,000 shekel" [just kidding!! The list has actually been very helpful to me]) Anyway the list posted a message from the organization Standing Together. This organization, run mostly by volunteers, is dedicated to showing the people who protect Israel, its soldiers, our appreciation for their hard work. With their truck and "hospitality trailer" volunteers visit IDF soldiers at their bases and offer support, gratitude, treats, hot and cold drinks etc. One of their biggest events is their Yom Ha'atzmaut barbeques, where they try to reach as many bases and soldiers as possible.
Understand something about Yom Ha'atzmaut in Israel. It is in my opinion the most celebrated holiday here. People go crazy getting ready for their mangal. Cows, sheep and chickens have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide this time of year. The supermarkets are busier than before Passover. (Trust me on that one, I stood on the line at Rami Levi day before yesterday). And most importantly, it is a time for families to come together.
I suppose that bringing barbeques to army bases on Independence Day is not something that many native Israelis do. Most of them have seen enough of army bases in their lifetimes and they have their families to celebrate with. For us, olim, immigrants, well, our friends are our families. So when Ahuva decided to organize things, well, Casa Baila was in.
Our young men and women get drafted here at age 18. This is the price we have to pay to remain strong, to defend our country and its right to exist. Some of these young men and women do get the day off for the holiday, but you just can't close down an army base for the day like you would a toy store. The day, one of the happiest of the year in this country, can be sad and depressing for soldiers who are away from their families and their own personal traditions.
And so off we went. Standing Together provided the meat and we provided the grills, charcoal, manpower. The pita (in Israel they don't do buns), chumus, tachina, salad, ketchup, mustard (yeah they don't do that either....), potatoe chips, drinks, paper goods and various desserts (Elianna's rice krispie treats were a big hit after being eyed suspiciously by those tough soldiers). We were four families who were friends from Modi'in, and we were joined by a lovely family from a nearby moshav.
We fed two shifts of soldiers, male and female, about 70 in all. Their average age was 19-20. The commander of the base was 24-years-old. They are young, strong, intelligent beautiful men and women.
I didn't think I would actually have conversations with the soldiers because it is hard for me to speak to strangers (nothing to do with the language, my Hebrew is good). But I did, mostly because they spoke to me. They were curious about why we made Aliya, about our kids and how they adapted, about what New York was like. And I asked them questions. About their work, about what their plans were when they would be done with the army. In speaking to one of the chayalot, she told me a bit about what she does. She's fairly new, been serving for about six months. She told me that the soldiers from this base work the nearby machsom--which is the checkpoint. Their job is to check both Israelis and Palestinians crossing through the checkpoint. She does this for 8 hours a day every day for two weeks and then gets two and a half days off. Sometimes she does 16 hour shifts (with a two hour break between). She misses her family terribly and even though the other soldiers in her unit have become like family, she told me she feels very lonely at times. She said that the most difficult part of her job was the relationship between the soldiers and residents of the area. "The Palestinians?" I asked, and she answered, "Actually both the Palestinians and the Jews". She told me that both have to pass through the checkpoint and both can be asked for ID for various reasons, and both can get angry about that.
At the end of the day, many of the soldiers came over to thank us. We made the day "שמח"--happy, and "חגיגי"--festive. Thank us???? The sacrifices that these young people make are astounding and they are thanking us for a couple of hamburgers and some Fanta. And rice krispie treats. I guess the treats makes us even.
I have a job to do, the soldier-girl told me and I will do it, and serve my country and protect the people in it as best as I can. But she said, "הלוואי שיום אחד לא יהיו מחסומים ויהיה שלום".
"How I hope and wish for the day when there are no checkpoints and there will be peace."
Me, too. And for the day our young men and women can spend our Yom Ha'atzmaut with their families at home, far, far away from any army bases.
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8 Years and Counting
7 months ago