This week he sent me a terrific editorial cartoon that summed up in one picture a great sense of who we are and who our enemies our. On the left side is a terrorist dressed in civilian clothing, aiming his gun at an Israeli soldier while crouching to hide behind an Arab woman who is holding a child, using them as a shield. On the right side is the Israeli soldier in full uniform. He too is standing next to a woman who is holding a child, yet he is standing in front of them – shielding THEM from harm.
I have written several times about my nephew Yonatan, who is currently a soldier in a Golani brigade. Military service was something that he looked forward to; it is a rite of passage for the average Israeli male, whose grandfather, father, uncles and older brothers have all served in the military and whose grandmother, mother, aunts and older sisters may have done so as well (although some may have elected to serve in Sherut Leumi/National Service).
As he approached his enlistment, we all shared a mutual sense of pride in him along with our concern for his well being, should he see action. While on a live training mission at an army checkpoint, his team successfully identified and arrested a terrorist who was attempting to smuggle a bomb. Just days later, his commander was partially blinded by a female terrorist who threw acid in his face at the checkpoint. My sister (with our blessings) missed Goldie’s Seudat Hoda’a on Chol HaMoed Sukkot in order to attend his graduation from training. His leadership skills and commitment were quickly recognized with his recent selection for officer training, and he has been attending commander school over the past couple of months.
When the retaliatory air strikes began, his platoon was advised to prepare – but he assured my sister that they were only going to drill in preparation and he had no idea if and when they would be called into combat. Once the ground operation started, we knew there was a possibility that he would be called into combat, but we knew that he would not tell us until after the fact.
A week ago Monday he called my sister to tell her that he was in the neighborhood for a special driving lesson. It seems that he needed to learn how to drive a specific type of vehicle. My sister met him to say hello and he was very vague when she asked him where he was heading after his lesson.
Later that week he spoke to my brother in law and admitted that he had indeed seen action during the week. He added that his platoon had accomplished their task and he was being reassigned to his base to await further orders. This news certainly brought a measure of relief to my sister and brother in law.
She called us before Shabbat to share the news, which seemed a bit strange (not having been in the military I didn’t understand the logic of rotating a platoon back to base in the middle of a conflict) – but certainly welcome. At the end of the call, my sister said “I just hope he isn’t lying to me to keep me from worrying – even though I know he probably is”.
Little did my nephew know that one of his many cousins would see him at the front on Sunday and call one of my sister’s in laws to report that he had seen Yonatan and that he was fine. This was of course reported to my sister and he eventually admitted that he was seeing action in the Gaza region and he simply did not want his parents to go crazy with worry about his well being. He wouldn’t divulge any more information to her, possibly because he isn’t allowed to or perhaps because he didn’t want to cause any more alarm than was necessary. But he did tell her that he was OK, and she called me Monday morning to let me know.
Later that day I got an incredible follow up call from her.
I am sure that you have seen many requests for care packages for the Israeli soldiers. There are several organizations that are organizing these drives and delivering the packages. Be it simple supplies like deodorant and baby wipes, or treats like candies and baked goods, a care package makes a world of difference to a tired soldier.
As someone who goes out at least once each month to deliver pizza or other treats to the men and women serving at checkpoints and on military bases, I personally witness the soldiers joy and excitement in seeing us and being surprised with a small thank you. Yet, at least in most cases, once the package is packed and sent, one rarely hears what an impact getting the package made on the recipient. Not today.
My nephew’s platoon had care packages from America distributed to them that morning. Although most of the packages come unmarked, Yonatan’s package contained a letter along with the goodies. As the son of an American immigrant, my nephew speaks and reads English better than the average Israeli, so it was unbelievably appropriate that his package, randomly distributed, would contain this beautiful letter. (It is possible that several other packages also contained personal letters, but from my sister’s representation it does not appear that they did)
My sister paraphrased the letter for me, in between tears. Upon hearing her version, I immediately called my nephew, who was at the border resting with his platoon, to hear the letter in full. It reads:
My daughter told me that I could help send a package to an Israeli soldier and I wanted to let you know how much I admire you and wish you well. I am almost 88 years old and had hoped that by now we would not have to be fighting for our homeland. I remember when Israel was founded and remember all the wars trying to annihilate Israel. I wish you could be home with your loved ones and not fighting. My prayers are with you and with Israel. Please be careful and be safe. May there be peace in my time.
Best wishes and Shalom,
I cannot adequately describe how much strength and inspiration these words gave not just to my nephew, but to his buddies as well. They all got packages and just getting these gifts is uplifting, but the personal message really inspired them and touched these young men (all of whom have seen the horrors of battle in the past week) to the core.
I was glad to have the chance to speak with Yonatan and tell him how proud we are of him. I asked him how he was doing and he told me that he is OK and that he has seen a lot of things, rockets flying overhead and other things that he does not want to talk about; all I could think about was that he is still just 20.
As I said goodbye, I was able to tell him that we love him and that he should (as Dorothy so aptly put it) be careful and be safe. Knowing that he is busy and needs rest when he has the chance, I would not normally call him in the middle of a conflict. I am glad that I had a good excuse.
Later in the day my sister called to tell me how Yonatan and all of his buddies were all huddled around a cellphone, jointly composing a thank you note to be sent via email (she had enclosed an email address in the letter). He had called her to verify some spelling issues and asked me for the best way to translate a specific word. I asked her to send me a copy of his note, which reads:
I got your letter and package and wanted say thanks from me and all my platoon friends. My name is Yonatan. I'm 20 years old, and serve at Golani brigade. My current mission is guarding the Israel-Gaza border. Your letter really touched me, and even though things here are pretty tense - I decided I have to write you back right away.
It feels so good to know that our people, all over the world, care and stand behind us. I also wish for peace, but unfortunately our homeland is surrounded by enemies. The only answer we can provide is standing-up persistently and united in front of them and fight. Your letter gave me and my friends a lot of strength, and we wanted to let you know how much your support is important for us. I wish you won't have to see any more wars for our homeland.
With much gratitude and appreciation,
I salute you Dorothy Shapiro. You had no idea to whom your package and letter would go; you only wanted to express your very ardent support for our soldiers and our country. You made an impression upon not just one soldier, but his whole platoon and you also brought a large amount of pride to our family. We are quite grateful that you (and all those who took the time to send care packages to our military’s young men and women) could bring such joy to our nephew at a time when we are sure he and his buddies needed the very boost that you gave them. You will always be a hero in our hearts.