Morning, in the Zone

Monday, July 28 at 8:30 a.m. 

Boker or

The familiar spicy warm Yerushalmi sunlight welcomes us bright and early ... and within minutes we are on our way south in a dusty jeep crammed with supplies for the troops, but also for the tons of people living in communities around Gaza.

Marc Provisor, from One Israel Fund, educates us in emergency procedures on what do if we hear a mortar whistle, and other various dangerous situations. Something, unfortunately, all 5-year-olds in this country know.

As we travel further south we notice the civilian traffic slowly diminish, and we are one of the only "non-green" vehicles on the road. Marc informs us that we were now IN THE ZONE. As my heart skipped a beat, we hear the newsabout the five chayalim (soldiers) who fell the night before. 

We pull into a staging area. In front of us is a huge field of tanks, tents, and equipment. We learn we are only one kilometer from Gaza. Amazingly we are not afraid. Here are chayalimjust returning from actual fighting in Gaza. How can we be afraid?

We start unloading our stuff: clotting gauze, wound sealers, material stretchers, flash lights, duffels, and our secret weapon—Romanian salamis. Now our soldiers are equipped with Chicago chazak (strength)! As we pull out amid hugs and “stay safes” to our new friends, I'm not sure if it's sweat or tears running down our cheeks.

Next stop Kibbutz Erez, on the border, whose residents are getting shelled daily yet stay the course. We give them a large magnetic searchlight for their patrol jeep and they are too grateful for words. In my head I say I wish I had 100!

The birds are chirping as we eat fresh figs under a shade tree when we hear the tzevah adom (red alert siren) warning of an incoming missile and run to their safe room. Soon the glorious sound of the Iron Dome is heard and the thunder of our tanks responding. We are literally in a war zone.

And so we leave more new friends.

Nativ Asara, a quiet, idyllic moshav is our next stop. We roll in alongside a large twisted barbed wire fence and donate a defibrillator, magnetic searchlight, and some life-saving medical equipment. The people are cheery and upbeat and so welcoming. And as I hear the thumping of our tanks in the "close" distance, the voice in my head keeps thinking, don't these people know where they are? Even the dogs here are frightful; their ears perk up and they run on their own to shelter.

The gratitude is palpable as we unwrap our magic gifts. They are a poor moshav, whose members originally came from a moshav in Sinai and were relocated here on the border 30-ish years ago. They too secure the safety of our entire country as they stay and work their land. Quiet, hard-working and proud, they hand out clothing, meals and love to all soldiers who pass through.

The road we take to Nachal Ozis off limits to civilian cars. We have to show our supplies, and Marc uses a little charm to get through this restricted area. Here there are terrorists popping out of tunnels constantly. I'm not sure we are even still in Israel! We pass the "drillers,” the ones finding the tunnels.

Nachal Oz is now primarily vacant. Only the hard and stubborn have stayed. We pass an assortment of army vehicles covered in shrapnel marks. Empty playgrounds and vacant buildings echo out in welcome. Here and there you see a few members on their bikes. We pass a burnt house where a woman was killed a few days ago. Then we meet Benny, the security chief and his deputy – a dog. He told us the hardest part is when they bring in the fallen soldiers from the front.

We sit in the shelter and discuss what he desperately needs: walkie-talkies and communication equipment. The shelter walls are covered with children's drawings, mostly of the war, done during the weeks they lived "down under."  As the walls vibrate with noise, hopefully from our tanks, they explain to us that their members all want to come back when it's safe, especially the children.

The constant buzzing of the drones and reverberating noise of the tanks mean only one thing: bad things are going on and really close by. We give away more medical equipment and flashlights and decide to go visit the tanks that are "nearby,” whatever that means.

We distribute some of Chicago’s secret weapon to some young beautiful chayalim. They sit in the blazing sun, heavily dressed in protective armor. In the entranceway to Gaza, the noises start again – time to go.  

As we pull out, we see a tired  band of tanks with their soldiers resting, so we stop and ask a sweet young paramedic what she needed and we share some more. We need an endless supply!

At 1:30 p.m., we pull into Alumim. I remember visiting here during my year in Israel. How beautiful it was! Now, in front of us is a large green tent for soldiers filled with drink and snacks. We are a nation of Jewish mothers – I had to hold myself back from jumping in and making eggs for everyone!

On the road again,  we make a sharp right onto nothing, no road, only sand and tank treads. In a cloud of sand and dust we find the soldiers and look for their medic. We pass out more much-needed medical supplies amid the constant "noise" of stuff overhead. I asked Marc where we were and he answered, “I can't tell you.” As someone from Skokie, I wonder what the hell I am doing here.

I start keeping a written list of what we've distributed. We meet more soldiers, or kids, and all of a sudden we know this one’s aunt, another one’s family. It’s amazing. They just want to talk and tell stories. We then make another list of what they need.

The spirit, determination, dedication and faith of everyone I met was truly unbelievable. It was my duty and my privilege.

We made it back to Yerushalayim with our hearts still IN THE ZONE. We have much responsibility: to pray for all our new friends and to spread the word of how much is needed.

We finished the day in a tiny hole in the wall in Sedarot, where I had the best chumus of my life – a perfect end to an incredible day.

May we all be privileged to see peace soon very soon. 

We are only your shlichim (emissaries). You wonderful donations made this possible – keep them coming.

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