Visiting Israeli Soldiers

By Ariel Hurwich Braun

The folowing are excerpts from a speech given prior to JOFA’s visit to Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint.

May 24, 2002

Today, you are scheduled to visit soldiers stationed at the checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, about a five-minute drive from here, and I have been asked to introduce this visit to you.

On one of our family visits to the checkpoint we ran into our neighbor, a young man about to finish his army service. He was driving in one car, with a second car close behind. When I told him we had come to bring packages for the soldiers, he exclaimed, “These are my friends. I also brought food, but mine didn’t fit into one car so I brought two.”

When first asked to speak to you, I was mostly confused. Although I know why I like to visit the checkpoint, I could not quite pinpoint the soldiers’ extraordinary gratitude.

So I stopped my neighbor on the street one day and asked him to please tell me: “Why do the soldiers’ appreciate our gesture so deeply?”

He explained: feedback from people makes a soldier vividly aware of his mission, he recognizes he is a messenger of the people and that gives him the strength to serve. He added, “yesh lanu gav” – “we have support.”

The first time my family brought packages to soldiers at the checkpoint, we arrived just as a long convoy of armored personnel carriers was preparing to go into Bethlehem. At the same time a woman arrived carrying two big bunches of roses.

She gave one to each soldier. Although it seemed odd to me, my brother who had once served in the army said, “I wish someone would have done this for us when we were in Lebanon.”

And truly, the vision was surreal. Among all the green, khaki and brown – the guns, the uniforms and the equipment – were delicate spots of pink. A soldier atop a vehicle was sitting by himself and smelling his rose, another playfully stuck it into the barrel of his gun, and many others tucked their flowers in nooks and niches on their vehicles or carried them around.

My children shyly gave bags of food to soldiers who, in turn, shyly accepted them.

The thanks, and even more so, the smiles we received for our modest gesture were heartening. Saying thank you is fashionable today. You might have noticed a big ad campaign on buses, on billboards, and in the media showing a blue Magen David made of six hearts bearing the words “Todah Me-kol Ha-lev” — Thank you with all our hearts. This campaign exists simply to say thank you to the soldiers defending our country.

You have come on this mission at a very difficult time for us in Israel. Our hotels are empty, our streets are all but deserted, businesses are suffering, and, as a mother, I dread my children’s independence. We all carry seeds of fear within us as part of our routine.

Coming to Israel at this time, traveling around, not so differently from the way we do, and ending your busy week by showing support for our soldiers reminds us of how beautiful and wonderful our country is.

It all boils down to what my wise young neighbor said so well: We lean on the support – the gav – that you give us.

Ariel Hurwich Braun lives in Jerusalem. Formerly a curator of Judaica, she is now working for the Adi Foundation that is dedicated to bridging the gap between art and Judaism.


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