Saturday, January 24, 2009

From Bud Levin, Los Angeles, CA

A wail of the siren shatters the evening calm.

people grab an old man an urge him to run to the shelter.

That old man was me and we were running for our lives just inside the Saroka Hospital in Beer Sheva.

I reached the shelter off the main lobby and I stopped for breath.

It is so difficult to describe the emotions that tore through my mind as I stood with patients nurses, and the members of our group.

First and foremost, I felt great fear.

I had spent 7 years in the U.S. Army Reserve some 50 years ago,

But I had never had to fire a shot in anger. More important, this was the first time that anybody was shooting at me.

Then I felt anger.

How could this beautiful hospital,
with all of these patients
Israeli, Palestinian and Bedouins
be a target for terror by Grad missals.
Three rockets had already struck near the hospital in the last five days.
Could this be the one that hits?
But then something wonderful happened.
Rabbi Uri Topolsky,
one of the 18 Modern Orthodox rabbis that I was traveling with;
took up his guitar and began to play a popular Israeli folk song.
Before you knew it, we were clapping hands, and dancing in the bomb shelter.
I was amazed to see the nurses and patients join in.
There we were,
a community formed in a bomb shelter.

I had experienced fear that I could not show.
Anger that I could not express.
And finally tears of joy and celebration

all in the span of 5 minutes.

I had tasted war Israeli style.

We were in the Negev on a JNF sponsored solidarity mission of Modern Orthodox rabbis,
Joined by some of their fellow Modern Orthodox rabbis from Israel.

I keep saying Modern Orthodox because
In contrast to Haredi rabbis
these rabbis are ardent Zionists who have fought in all the Israeli wars.

Some of them were wearing pistols for our protection. There must be a song about pistol-packin rabbis.

They all spoke perfect Ivrit and they were the best interpreters that I had ever had in Israel.

This was my 68th trip to Israel since 1973 and my Hebrew skills have never gone beyond being able to find a bathroom.

We were visiting wounded soldiers in the hospital.

We were split into small groups as we went on our visit.
I remember that four of us were crowded in a small room with a soldier and his parents.

He was badly bruised and his left leg was broken in several places.

We were the first Americans that had visited him and he wanted to tell his story.

He went on to tell us that he was saved by a miracle.

He was searching for the bad guys in an apartment house near Gaza city.

He was on the third floor balcony around midnight of his first day of combat.

Suddenly, a blast occurred inside of the apartment.
He was blown off of the balcony and was falling head-first for the street below.

He felt that he was going to land on his head and would surly die on that dark night in Gaza.

Suddenly his left leg hit one of the balconies below and he was spun around.

He landed on his back with his backpack and ceramic plated flak Jack hitting first.

His leg was badly broken but he was alive. He told the rabbis that HaShem had wanted him to live. I left that room with the picture of his parents
both crying with tears of joy.

After our brief stint in one of the hospital shelters,
we hopped on our bus and headed for the border of Gaza.

We began to see and hear the sounds of war,
so our guide gave us our security briefing.

In every village or town that we stopped in, there was a system of siren warnings.

There was always a shelter nearby.

If we were on the bus and not near a siren, we had a signal that would be sent by radio to the bus.

If there was a missal in our vicinity
we were instructed to jump off the bus and lay face down besides the road.

The funny thing was---nobody seemed rattled.

I saw workers going to and from their jobs as if everything was normal.

There was a war going on two kilometers away and nobody seemed to give a damn.

You should note that the Israelis had invested huge sums of money in shelters since the Gaza pull out.
Every bus stop was made of reinforced concrete.
Every house and building had a shelter built in
Human life was sacred in Israel,
but so was the people’s determination to live life as usual and hang on in Eretz Israel.

By the way

The Hamas had not invested one penny in civilian protection

What does that tell you about our enemy?

We drove down to a temporary tank base on the Gaza border.

We visited soldiers from the Golani Brigade.

These were tough-battle hardened army veterans who seemed thrilled to see us.

I couldn’t understand why they were so happy to see me. Then I found out why.

We had brought them precious gifts---
Under wear and socks.

This was like gold to the combat soldier.

One of them told me that he grabbed his back-pack from his Tel Aviv apartment
and headed for war.
The army had issued him 2 pairs of socks and two pair of boxers.
He thought he was going into combat for just two days.

For the next 14 days they lived in or next to their tank. They had come out the day before we arrived.

You would have thought we were Santa Claus.

Well I guess not Santa Claus.
But they loved us just the same.

I was talking to one tall blonde and blue eyed tanker.

He looked more like a Norwegian ski instructor than an Israeli.

But he was Sabra through and through.

He told me that the army never targeted civilians.

But that was very difficult because Hamas used that Israeli trait to hide behind women and children.

School rooms, Mosques and dense civilian populations were the best place to ambush Israeli soldiers.

Even though the Army dropped leaflets and made phone calls to the enemy
an hour before their attack,

He knew that they had still had to fire on some non-combatants.
This was tragedy
But it was war

When Hamas killed Israeli children then they won. And when they lost their own children
---they would still win.

I must tell you that in spite of it all
----the morale among soldiers was sky high.

Two and one-half years ago
I was on the northern border between Israel and Lebanon in 2006.

the war had just ended.

I knew some of the soldiers that had fought in that war.

On the nights just after the cease fire we had long discussions about the conduct of that engagement.

In some cases they were not properly equipped.
Many of their high ranking officers seemed confused about their mission.
They kept changing tactics and goals everyday.
Their intelligence had not prepared them for the strength of Hezbolla.

Two and one half years later it was a totally different story.

The call up of reserves showed a compliance rate of 115%.

Even those with exemptions wanted to fight.

Many were sent home.

The intelligence was extraordinary.

Shin Bet had done its job.

Today, as we speak, there are scores of murders going on by Hamas
because they are convinced of security breaches.

And in many cases
they are probably correct.

Our tanks were equipped with new electronic anti-tank rocket deterrence.

Our soldiers were fully equipped.

And best of all,
The soldiers that I talked to had complete confidence in their military leaders.
I could see it their eves.
The soldiers that I met Wednesday before last were ready and able to go back into combat.

After our stay with the army we arrived in Sderot.

Sderot is a town of 30,000 people on the border with Gaza.

Today, after eight years
and 4500 Quassam rockets,
it is now a town of 20,000 determined people.

A lot of the people
who could afford it,
had moved north.

Hamas was determined to destroy the will of the people of Sderot.

We saw homes and businesses all struck by rockets.

Actually, the Quassam rocket war head is not designed to destroy most buildings.

It is designed to spread terror.
In every Quassam war head there are as many as 500 ball bearings.

After the explosion, you can easily see the pattern of ball bearing smashing into the nearby walls.
These rockets are designed to maim and shock its victims.

When we arrived in Sderot
we received our ubiquitous security briefing.
Only this time we were told that we had only 8 seconds to run for shelter because Sderot was only 1 kilometer away from the Gaza border.

I can’t even get up out of a chair in 8 seconds.

But again everybody seemed calm and collected.

We broke into very small groups and we went to visit different homes that had been damaged in Sderot.

We were met by a delightful family who had moved from Morocco to Sderot in 1960.

They were incredibly hospitable.
Best Berekas I ever tasted.

The parents couldn’t speak a word of English,
But two of their four children were fairly fluent.

The rabbis came to my rescue again as I talked to Abba.

He had moved to Sderot as a very young child.
This was the only home town he could remember.

His house had been hit four times in the past 5 years.

You cannot imagine the terror that these people had survived.

They broke my heart when they told me that we were the first visitors that they had in a long time. Even their own family would not travel to Sderot to be with them.

Abba had been wounded twice,
but that alone cannot describe the terror that they had experienced.

We saw where they slept every night.

They did not trust that the warning siren would give them enough time, to get out of bed and head for the safe room.
So all 6 of them slept in the small safe room in the center of the home.

The 6 mattresses literally filled the room.

As Abba was talking,
I kept wondering how we could fit all 10 of us in that tiny room.

His was story of true Zionism.

He understood what kind of victory the Hamas wanted, and he was determined not to give it to them.

If this town was anywhere else in the world, it would probably have been evacuated by now.

But this is Eretz Israel. If they left Sderot,
What would be next.---Tel Aviv.
This is not just a problem for Israel.
This would be disaster for Jews everywhere.
For that matter the whole world.

Just as John Kennedy once said that he was Ein Berliner

I believe that you and I must become citizens of Sderot.

Our people have waited 2000 years to return to Israel.

This is our time to stand up
And declare that we have returned

If not in body
Then at least in spirit

Even if you will never visit Israel, the Negev, or Sderot , you are here and now a citizen of Sterodt.

The Jewish National Fund understands this stake that we have.

That is why we have launched Operation Security Blanket: southern Israel.
We are funding a secure indoor recreation center in the middle of Sderot.

My family and I visited this indoor center last August.
It was a thrill to see how much progress had been made in a few short months.

This project was conceived last April and will be open for Purim

The mayor had told me that this is what they needed to get the kids out of their homes and go to a secure place to play.

This will be the largest and best of its kind in Israel.
The families that we talked to cannot wait for the play-ground to open.

In safe times and dangerous time this will serve as a magnet for the kids of Sderot
and the returning families
after a cease fire is secured.

The money that we raise through Operation Security Blanket will be used to fund this play ground

In addition
Operation Security Blanket will provide the following:

To send families from SDerot to JNF summer camps to provide respite from the constant attacks.

To build a new fire station in Sderot and provide five new fire engines for the southern Negev.

That is in addition to the 78 fire engines we have already provided since the last Lebonan war.

To build a new security road along the border with Gaza to protect the area’s residents as they travel to work and school.

We must do all of this and still maintain our commitments to Beer Sheva and Alle Negev as part of our plans for Blue Print Negev.

I know who I am talking to.

I am there with you.

Many of us are not financially in the same place that we were a year ago.

But this is when we the Jewish people reach for new heights.

We have shown that we can handle what ever comes our way.
We may or my not be the Chosen People but we are a special people.

You should know who I am

I am passionate giver to the Jewish National Fund

Therefore, I am a passionate fundraiser

I feel very much a part of our fight to return to and to hold on to this tiny precious land called Israel.

In the gentlest way that I can

I am asking you to join me in support of our fund

Give to Operation Security Blanket

Let us take on this sacred task together.

I would like to leave you with one more poignant memory of my forty-eight hours in the Negev.

Our group stayed the night the in Sderot Hesder Yeshiva.

In fact, we slept in cots in a very cold but very safe bomb shelter at the Yeshiva.

I don’t know which was louder
The sounds of war a kilometer away or the snoring of my rabbis.

The kids in this Yeshiva were fantastic.

At Hesder yeshivot
kids studies for 2 years after high school
and then they go to the army for two years.
Most of them choose combat units.

They come back to the Yeshiva after service to finish their rabbinic training

As I said, these kids are special.

They have been an anchor to the beleaguered town of Sderot.

They spend much of their time performing acts of kindness for the people of the town.
Because of them

I will leave you with one beautiful picture.

I climbed up six flights of stairs to be with the boys on the roof of the main building.

I looked out towards Gaza
On that crystal clear night
and I saw and heard the war that was going on that Wednesday night,

The rabbi spoke and then the boys began to sing and dance.

This time I just stood there and drank it in.

I suddenly had a feeling Hamas was watching us.

They were trying to terrorize our people and drive them out of the Promised Land.

And instead of being terrified, these boys were dancing.

Through my tears I looked up to sky to ask a simple question.
When will the world know that our word is stronger than their sword?

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