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Thank You Notes

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The months went by and we e-mailed regularly in a strange mix of Hebrew, English and broken versions of each. We became Facebook friends and sent greetings to each other before each holiday. Moshe’s army service had ended by the time our e-mails began, but he told me what it was like to be a combat engineer, and about that day of training in the desert when, surrounded by the soldiers he was commanding, he opened up a box of food and found a note inside.

We spoke about the differences between living in America and Israel, and about things we have in common despite the continental divide. We swapped songs and poems we had written and argued about whether Ashkenazic or Sephardic food tastes better.

Moshe was studying for the Israeli version of the SAT, the Psychometry, when we first started communicating, and he’s certain that his English improved from the months of writing in English to me. He ended up scoring so well on the English section of the test that he was exempt from taking extra English courses in university. I, in turn, learned lots of new Hebrew words that I was excited to use on my next trip to Israel.

However, despite intense planning efforts over the next several months, none of my Israel trips ended up materializing. I began to wonder when I would ever go back, and if I would ever get to meet Moshe.

And then this past spring I discovered that my family was considering visiting Israel over the summer. I did my share of encouraging/pressuring and finally we decided to make the trip. One of the first people I shared the news with was Moshe. He was excited about seeing me, but realized that his miluim was coinciding with my trip. And to top it off, I was staying in Jerusalem, several hours away from his home in Haifa.

But I wasn’t about to travel 6,000 miles and not meet him. I urged my family to schedule our day trip to visit our cousins on a kibbutz not far from Haifa for one of the last days before Moshe started miluim. We caught an early bus out of Jerusalem and, while my family spent the morning touring around Haifa, I arranged to meet Moshe.

And so, three and a half years after writing a note to an anonymous soldier, slipping it into a box of food behind the army’s back, and forgetting about it until more than a year and a half later, I met Moshe. In the blistering heat he took me for a drive out to Akko, where were wandered around the Arab shuk and strolled along the coast. We laughed as sailors tried to urge us onto their boats for a ride, and invented stories behind the ruins overlooking the clearest water I had ever seen.

But the best part was when Moshe reached into his wallet and pulled out a tiny, folded piece of paper. I knew what it was before even holding it in my hands. It showed signs of wear, having traveled from its origin in a notebook to its place in a box filled with canned food; it saw the plains, the desert and the coast. It survived a messy bedroom and a cramped wallet. It brought tears to my eyes as I read the words I had written three and a half years earlier. Words that began a cycle of hakarat hatov that resulted in a friendship and eventually brought me to this exact place in Eretz Yisrael.

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I have to admit it. I was scared. And I don’t get scared. Or at least I don’t like to advertise when I do. But the wording of the e-mail from the U.S. State Department was so… harsh. Violent armed robberies are on the rise in Peru. In just three days I was going to be a U.S. citizen traveling alone to this apparent hotbed of crime called Peru, starting out in big, bad Lima.

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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…

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