By Leah Garber
Throughout the years, there have been many times I have heard the expression Rak B’Yisrael | רק בישראל | Only in Israel—and usually not as a compliment. I can’t say I always agreed or appreciated the cynicism, yet Israel, like any other country, has its faults, so yes, sometimes “only in Israel” is a complaint, but not today.
Only in Israel is the harsh, dangerous battlefield only a few hours away from home or in my case, a mere 60 minutes away.
Only in Israel, you can get into your car and drive south to visit the soldiers who are not yet in Gaza but near the border, where it’s possible to see them. Yes, some roads are blocked, and there is the risk of frequent sirens and a much shorter alert time—only 15 seconds—than elsewhere in the country. In the south, too, where the entire scene is one of war, the dominant color is the khaki of soldiers’ uniforms and the military vehicles—accented by the blue and white of the flags that decorate them. Still, you get to see your loved ones.
Only in Israel, where everyone is drafted, does the Canaanite Restaurant food truck serve more than 1,000 gourmet meals to soldiers barely a mile from the Gaza border. It’s a surreal scene because only a month ago, the same roads were filled with 3,000 murderers armed with guns, axes, and knives in a wild race to kill as many people as possible.
Earlier today I took a break from my computer screen, endless emails and Zoom calls, and especially the depressing news and drove south to lend a hand in this massive catering operation. At the entrance to one of the kibbutzim, a battle zone last month, today was packed with military cars and jeeps, tables and chairs, and great Israeli music playing. I walked into a smokey barbecue food truck, where an amazing team was conducting an operation no less complex than a military one. I immediately got down to work and was rewarded well because there is no greater pleasure than offering soldiers a delicious meal.
What an honor it was to serve these amazing people. I was moved to see their gratitude especially because all I really wanted to do was embrace each one of them. My heart was filled with enormous appreciation for all these men and women sacrifice—time with their families and children, their professional endeavors, comfortable lives—to protect us, to protect our home.
All over Israel there are food trucks like this, bringing the best restaurants to the army bases and anywhere soldiers are. All the food, of course free, as it’s funded by donors. Today I met Lawrence, a businessman and lawyer from Montreal who happened to be in Israel the week the war broke out. He decided to stay and do what he does best—raising money to finance these wonderful meals.
I also met Ariel Cohen, an Israeli who lives in Boston. Ariel left his wife and three small children back in Boston and arrived in Israel at the beginning of the war to join his unit and fight. Only in Israel!
While I was at the food truck, I learned that Rei, my son-in-law, had left Gaza for a few hours because his tank had broken down. We immediately packed a few meals for him and his friends, and I drove to Kibbutz Be’eri, where the worst of the massacre happened and with no civilians left, has been turned into an army base.
It was more than a bit emotional to meet a beloved family member whom I haven’t seen for several weeks and who just a few hours ago was in the middle of a battle inside Gaza on maximum alert. It was great to have him standing near me and enjoying a burger.
At the beginning of the war, 7-year-old Shaked, Rei’s eldest daughter, asked whether we should save pasta leftovers for her dad so he could have it when he is back from the war. Today I had the privilege of bringing him a hot and fresh meal. Shaked’s innocent and loving concern for her dad earned him a good meal today.
I hugged Rei like I had never hugged him before, praying that he and his friends—all our boys—will return home safe and sound.
So, I had a day of respite from the news and horror stories, an exhilarating day to see beautiful, warm, kind Israelis. To see our dear soldiers, pat the dust off their uniforms, look into their tired eyes, and say thank you.
This is our resilience, the human spirit, and with it, we will prevail.Together, united, we will overcome.
Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.