It’s been twenty-five years since I attended Solomon Schechter Day School and climbed onto a bus with one of my parents for a field trip. Six weeks ago, I boarded a bus as a Rabbinical Student with my Dad and we set out for the Gush. Rabbi Matt Berkowitz, the Director of the Israel Programming for JTS and Ziegler in Israel, planned a day trip to the Gush Etzion region just outside of Jerusalem. There were many amazing parts of the day including our inspiring tour guide Eve Harow, the places we visited such as the Sde Bar Farm and lunch in Efrat – but none of these was as special as the opportunity to bring my Dad along for the day.
My parents are the ones who enrolled me in Solomon Schechter and sent me to Israel during my summers in High School and insisted on us learning Hebrew at school instead of Yiddish at home. Zionism lived and breathed in my house in a way that never needed to be explained. My brother and sister and I are all proud Zionists. We all married proud Zionists. As a father myself now, I can recognize that such things are no coincidence.
The day was long, exhausting and meaningful. And it culminated with Eve leading us to a bakery and saying, “Next we are headed to a roadside stop for IDF soldiers where they pull off the highway and grab baked goods and coffee for themselves. The soldiers could be our own children or children of parents in Tel Aviv. But here in the Gush, we believe in taking care of all of the soldiers as if they are our own.” Immediately, my Dad leaned over and said to me, “We have to pick up good stuff.” We bought the most chocolate-ey chocolate cake and a big box of cookies at the bakery and boarded the bus.
The bus dropped us off at Pina Hama L’Chayalim (“The Warm Corner for Soldiers” – www.pinahama.co.il). This unassuming coffee shop is dedicated to serving IDF soldiers, which was built in honor of victims of terrorist violence. My Dad and I entered and were immediately overwhelmed by the different IDF squadron flags and T-Shirts pinned up all over the small shop. If my parents raised us to always try to help Israel and its sons and daughters, then this small hut of a coffee shop off the highway looked a lot to me like the Holy Temple. Like everybody else in our group, my Dad and I presented our offering at the counter. Then as a group we prayed Mincha. As we left, an IDF Jeep pulled off the highway and soldiers rushed out to grab some baked goods. At that moment, I looked at my Dad’s face and saw a grateful smile.
Many in the world view IDF Soldiers as machines – without emotion or vulnerability. I know the IDF Soldiers to be college aged Israeli-Jewish kids just like their American-Jewish counterparts, except the Israeli kids are tasked with defending the Jewish People – the single most important responsibility any Jew has faced in two thousand years. If in some way, a rushed and scared and homesick nineteen-year-old soldier finds a taste of a delicious treat soothing, then our sacrifice is accepted... And my Dad’s smile grows even wider.
Every Shabbat I pray Isaiah’s words, “And nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war anymore.” I pray one day soon G-d brings about such a world. But until that day comes, I pray that the Jewish children who hold swords to defend us feel that they are supported by all of us. I pray that "The Warm Corner” of the Gush inspires us all to warmly welcome Jewish soldiers to every Jewish community in all four corners of the Earth. Let us learn to treat them all as if they are our own.