Israel is being enveloped in a spirit of volunteerism and unity that is bringing out the best in everyone. It is happening on an unprecedented scale and it is also the topic of much conversation. Everyone wishes to share and assist others in need, and the stories of incredible altruism and generosity have the effect of a chain letter that no one wishes to disrupt.
The only experience I ever had akin to this was the mood that prevailed at the time of the Gulf War when Israel was under constant threat of missile attack from Iraq. Then, too, there was a sense of brotherliness and a real sense that we are all in this together. Regrettably, it did not last very long. Among my most fervent prayers (after entreaties for the welfare of our soldiers, the captives, and Jews around the world) is that the spirit of unity and care for one another will never wane.
As I observe the conduct that we encounter every day in Israel, it brings me back to Tom Brokaw’s classic The Greatest Generation, the story of what he dubbed the greatest generation that any society has ever produced. It is the story of heroes and heroines who came of age during WWII and went on to build modern America. The generation was united in common purpose and values such as duty, honor, economy, courage, service, love of family and country, and above all, responsibility for oneself.
Some of the obvious similarities to America in 1941 and Israel in 2023 are that the United States and Israel are not fortresses. And just as America rose to the calling of saving the world from the instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs, the IDF has been called upon to defend itself against fanatical terrorists. Ultimately, what Brokaw wrote about pales to what is going on in Israel now.
The people of Israel have opened their homes to internal refugees from the south and the north. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forced to abandon homes situated near the southern or northern borders where they are subject to rocket fire, and their evacuation provides the army fuller room to operate.
Anyone who has access to an apartment that is not currently occupied is opening it up and giving it to a family that has been evacuated. In every neighborhood people are collecting sheets, towels, blankets, pillows.
The sense of brotherhood is so genuine because aside from the fact that Israel is now caught in an existential struggle, it is fighting as a family. Whereas in the world at large there are up to six degrees of separation until a direct connection is found, in the small country of Israel there is never more than one degree of separation.
Here is a small current example. Just yesterday an inspector from the Jerusalem municipality came down to our little street to lodge a complaint about an ordinance that had been violated. He never stood a chance.
The lady who lives in the corner building discovered that she had worked with the inspector’s father for thirty years. A rabbi one house over has been trying to help the inspector gain access to see someone. A different neighbor served in the army with him, and yet a different neighbor is the inspector’s sister’s landlord.
All of this happened in three minutes. If he would have remained half an hour, he would have discovered that he is related to others – all on a teeny street. Needless to say, the fine was never issued.
That was merely a glimpse. With an enterprise as large as the IDF, everyone has a direct connection with a soldier, and in every household, there are multiple family members currently in the reserves.
Therefore, even though the army could feed its soldiers, an overnight increase in manpower of over 350,000 requires some time to tweak and adjust. Immediately, people all over the country began cooking for the soldiers. Restaurants and bakeries got to work sending out meals and carbohydrates. Lunches were being supplied in such large and generous quantities that there is a joke going around that if someone is hungry the best solution is for him to enlist.
I saw a video clip of an officer in the military rabbinate describing how a secular Israeli brought 300 meals to his army base to distribute to the soldiers. The rabbi complimented the gentleman on his significant donation, but said that for any food to enter the base it has to be kosher, and… ehh, from the looks of things, it does not seem like kashrut is a matter with which the contributor is familiar.
The man retorted that he had only spoken to two rabbis in his life. “Today with you, and yesterday to the rabbi I got to make my home kosher.”
I heard on the radio about a fellow who went up North with a friend hoping to provide meals for soldiers. Since the north of the country has been evacuated, they had no problem finding a venue where they could set up shop, namely someone’s garage – with permission from the owner. Barbecue apparatus were hauled in, and in no time the garage became a culinary hot spot (“hot” being the operative word).
The two industrious men working the fires could churn out 300 meals a day, but that is presupposing that they had ready supplies. Currently, however, the north is a ghost town as far as open stores and food outlets. The two friends recruited a corps of other friends to join them in supplying the ingredients. The same corps was also enlisted in the distribution, resulting in a large handful of retired gentlemen working symbiotically to get fresh, tasty meals to the front-line troops.
The news anchor who broke the story was naturally impressed and asked how they are funding this project. The mastermind cook related in a bashful voice that contributions would be accepted – very much as an afterthought.