I knew I wasn’t supposed to do it. They specifically warned us not to, and you don’t mess with the army. But how could I not? I peeked over my shoulder and saw the olive drab back of the supervisor. Good. I dropped the paper into the box along with the chocolate spread and watched it continue down the conveyer belt. A minute later the box was sealed. No sirens went off, no soldiers rappelled down the walls of the warehouse, fixing their guns on me. I exhaled. And then laughed. My note was just one of several that had snuck their way into the food packages that day. And the IDF had no clue…
Later that day as I sat outside with the other Sar-El volunteers, TV dinner-esque lunches in our laps, I thought about how fortunate we were to be eating reheated schnitzel and rice. The combat soldiers receiving the boxes we were packing would have died for a bite of that. Instead, four soldiers were handed a box that wouldn’t have fit a pair of shoes. When they opened it they would find a handful of protein-packed necessities like tuna, sardines, halva, and of course, the indispensable chocolate spread. Oh yeah, and this was supposed to last the four of them twenty-four hours.
But a select number of soldiers would find something extra in their boxes during the weeks of January 2009: A small note, handwritten by a girl from America, thanking him/her for protecting the Jewish homeland. My roommates and I had spent a good part of the previous evening writing those notes, asking our madricha for help with some of the trickier Hebrew grammar. And that morning our notes were deposited into the food packages on the sly. I didn’t think anyone would respond to the notes I had written. This wasn’t the first time I had sent a thank you note to a soldier, American or Israeli, and none had ever seen fit to reply.
Once again I was doing something I probably shouldn’t have. I was at work, pretending to be fully immersed in the writing of some report, but in fact I was checking my e-mail. There was more spam than usual clogging up my inbox. Delete. Delete. Dele- What was that? The subject line of one of the e-mails was in Hebrew and simply said “Todah!!” I’m not one to object to being thanked, but a) I didn’t recognize the e-mail address, and b) no one I know writes to me in Hebrew. Did this mean I was getting Hebrew spam now? And yet something held me back from clicking on the tiny garbage can.
I considered the situation. I had never gotten Hebrew junk mail before. And it’s not like they were offering to lower my interest rate if I simply typed in my social security number and mother’s maiden name. I slid the cursor over the subject line.
“Shalom Cheryl,” the e-mail began, my English name spelled out phonetically. So this Hebrew stranger knew my name. Or at least the name I give Israelis when I don’t want to overwhelm them with my Hebrew name. (You try saying Naftalit Eti Chana three times fast). I continued reading. The mystery man told me that he had received a food package that I had prepared for Israeli soldiers. Food package? That must mean… After all my attempts someone was actually responding to one of my notes! But it had been a year and eight months since I had volunteered with Sar-El. What was this e-mail doing arriving now?
The soldier, whose name was Moshe, thanked me for volunteering with the IDF and wrote how excited he had been to find a note hidden in his food box. And then the explanation came. He had gotten my letter over a year earlier, fully intended to write to me at the time, but had misplaced it until now, when he found it while cleaning his room. He ended his e-mail with a quick P.S., asking me to write back so he’d know I got his e-mail.
That report I was supposed to be working on got pushed even farther onto the backburner as I excitedly showed the e-mail to my coworker and reminisced about packing those boxes and writing those letters, marveling at the fact that someone had finally decided to respond. Then I set about forwarding Moshe’s e-mail to my family and friends. This was the most exciting thing that had happened to me in a long time, and of course I was going to write back to him- after all, he had written back to me – but that would have to wait till after work.