It was a beautiful day in October and my parents, David and Tzipporah Speyer, decided to take advantage of the mild weather. They ventured over to Mamilla Mall in the Old City, along with my great aunt Alice. After strolling around for some time, they decided to indulge in some delicious Belgian ice cream cones, taking pictures and sending them to the family WhatsApp group. I flicked through the images on my phone mindlessly, happy that they were enjoying themselves along with my aunt, whose Parkinson’s was momentarily forgotten in that one delicious moment of indulgence. I smiled at my aunt’s version of an ice cream l’chaim, and lost myself in the demands of my day, not suspecting just how far that ice cream would go.
Some time later, I checked my phone again, only to find new pictures my Dad had posted, along with a video. In the short clip, my father made a running commentary while my Mom proceeded to invite a group of soldiers for ice cream – all forty of them! The pictures showed my parents and my delighted aunt flanked by an entire unit of soldiers eating ice cream. My siblings and I fired off some comments, along with some smiley emojis. None of us were surprised, because this was in total character with who our parents are. We laughed and shook our heads, fully intending to relegate the incident to the annals of family lore, another great story to add to our collection of recollections.
Even though we grew up witnessing our parents’ “serial acts of kindness,” other people sometimes react to their impulsive desire to give with nothing less than shock, admiration, or both. One such person is artist Tamar Zeitlin, a painter and illustrator, who happened to be sitting a couple of tables down, along with her husband. She posted the entire incident on Facebook, and overnight the story became – no pun intended – a real scoop.
Throughout that first night, my father’s Facebook page buzzed incessantly, the “likes” reaching the thousands. At some point he shut it off to get some sleep. “All I had wanted was my chocolate ice cream,” he quipped. When we woke the following morning, we began to digest the impact of what this Belgian ice cream had accomplished. As we slept, my parents had become mini-media sensations, with comments pouring in from all strata of Israeli society, along with those weighing in from abroad. Some were brought to tears by the religious couple who invited forty soldiers for ice cream, while others thought it an appeasement of their conscience for not having their direct descendants serving in the army. (For the record, my son, their grandson, served in the IDF for three years.) My other son in yeshiva received a call from his friend in the army that same morning. “Why are your grandparents all over the army’s social media group?”
All this happened against the backdrop of protests by an independent religious group, who took to the streets of Yerushalyaim rallying against the army’s draft practices. As tensions in Israel were already high between the secular and religious sectors, the ice cream story either cooled, or stoked the fires of discontent that were raging on Israeli media.
My parents, for their part, were shocked. They were totally unaware of the protests, having recently returned from their trip to America where they were visiting the rest of my siblings. Their only agenda was to show the soldiers how much they loved and appreciated them. They even received an email from one of the soldier’s parents, who had been greatly moved by their gesture.
“You don’t understand,” my mother said. “Here we were enjoying our ice creams, and I overhear a soldier asking how much it costs. At hearing the price, the soldier turns to his friend and says, ‘Let’s get some water instead.’ Do you think,” my mother continued, “that I could enjoy my ice cream when my own children couldn’t? Every Jewish mother should feel like these are her children! I just wanted them to enjoy some ice cream!”
When my mother first approached the store’s proprietor, he was taken aback. My mother, ever the consummate business woman, asked for a discount, since she was buying forty plus cones, after all. The owner was so moved that he gave her his wholesale price. The ice cream shop suddenly took on an air of celebration, as the soldiers and patrons took pictures and videos of this impulsive outpouring of love for a fellow Jew. My mother began to hug and give blessings to the female soldiers, and they responded in kind. What they got was ice cream, with a generous sprinkling of love on top. Forty soldiers, along with their commanders, enjoyed some decadent Belgian ice cream, creating quite the scene in this otherwise placid café of frozen treats.
Suddenly, my parents’ story was appearing all over Israeli media. One of the religious radio stations scheduled an interview with my mother and Tamar Zeitlin. In the interview, my mother reiterated the importance of loving those who defend our land physically along with those who protect it spiritually. Israelis were scratching their heads at the incident, because it defied the borders that were invisibly etched in the Israeli psyche – that secular and religious could not meet, unless it was in the setting of a protest or some other incident involving discord and discontent. Our secular Israeli cousins began to report the story’s wide circulation on the various news outlets, proud of their religious family member’s sudden fame. Some even defended my parents’ actions to their friends who were suspicious of my parents’ motives. One cousin managed to catch two different debates on the topic during one of her commutes home. Everyone kept reporting back to us all the different articles and broadcasts that had mushroomed after my parents’ ice cream outing.
“That was the best money I ever spent,” said my Mom. “Who knew that a little bit of ice cream could go so far?”
For all who suspected that my parents had a hidden agenda, nothing could be further from the truth. These are the same parents who took in an entire family when they lived in Miami years ago before they made aliyah. This family ended up living with them for months while the daughter received medical treatment. This is but one example in their life-long career as givers. My mother still tears up when she thinks of “their” soldiers. In each one she sees her grandsons. These are eighteen-year-old children who are sent to defend the land we love so fiercely and so tenaciously – soldiers who were given a scoop of love and appreciation in the form of a frozen Belgian confection, a small token of thanks for putting their lives on the line every day.
From my parents I learned to replace judgment with love. This is one of the reasons why each of our children has followed his or her own path, under the guidance of one Father. We have a son who served in the Israeli army, and those who serve from their benches in yeshiva. And in my own, limited human way, I love them all in equal measure. If we, in our finite human understanding are capable of this, imagine how much love Hashem has for us all – and how much we should love each other in turn, not because of our differences, but in spite of them.