Home inSight Volunteering in Israel: Part IV

Volunteering in Israel: Part IV

Jewish Policy Center

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment of our on-the-ground volunteer reporting from Israel. For those who have been wanting to contribute to Israel’s defense, here is your link. Get your credit cards out and please do this: https://hatzolair.org/campaign/funds-for-hatzolah-air-israel-operations.. There are a lot of good organizations, but this is as direct a donor-to-service link as you will find. In addition, a generous JPC member will be matching contributions above $180 to a total of-$20,000. Make it rain, people.

November 14:

I arrived back in Jerusalem Monday, and since then my time has been filled mostly with actual legal work (yes, that) and making calls.

I managed to connect with several people, including Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, the UK-born, Gibraltar-raised deputy mayor of Jerusalem.  She is also the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ delegate to the world on innovation, but since the war she’s been the delegate to the diaspora more generally.  She was on her way from NYC to the rally in DC.  She had limited time, but I managed to connect her with one of my favorite webcasters, Shoshana Bryen of the Jewish Policy Center.  They had a call, but there were technical problems since Fleur was on the train and, well, Amtrak.  You’ve probably already seen the inSIGHT article – or you can find it on the JPC website.  Fleur is very involved in Israel’s relations with the Abraham Accords countries, and she talked about that in her discussion with Shoshana – I recommend it to everyone.  I will probably meet with Fleur over the weekend here in Jerusalem.

Back to Jerusalem.  It rained here yesterday, which is not all that relevant except that there was thunder before the downpour.  Either I’ve been well-trained since I got here, or I’m jumpier than I thought, because my inclination at the first rumble was to hit the deck.

In the evening, I went to the souk – an outdoor market that looks a bit like Reading Terminal in Philadelphia without the walls.  I bought an almost unmanageable load of fruit, vegetables, nuts, and fresh bread, all for much less than it would have cost in DC.

This morning I had breakfast with an Israeli attorney that I’m working with on a legal project.  We will probably meet again on Friday and finalize the work.  He invited me to Shabbat dinner with his family and Canadian friends of theirs. That’s one thing I’ve noticed here – even among those who are not particularly observant, Shabbat dinner is still an important event.  Maybe that’s because I’ve been in Jerusalem and smaller towns that are more religious.  I suspect that it’s also true to some extent in Tel Aviv and the more modern areas, especially now.

I feel a bit guilty sitting around in Jerusalem, but it was necessary for a variety of reasons.  Still, I figure that the more shopping I do, the more I’m helping keep the economy going.  So, I’ve ordered t-shirts with my new new motto: “They also serve who shuck the shekels.”  I encourage any of you who are so inclined to come to Jerusalem – it’s very safe, and very rewarding.  And I’ll give you a t-shirt.

November 16:

Last night I faced the biggest risk since I arrived in Israel – I got a shwarma from a street vendor at the souk.  Fortunately, there were no problems.

Later in the evening, I was reading the news and sipping Aaron’s bourbon when Eli gave me a call.  He and some other medics had decided to staff an ambulance they borrowed from Magen David Adom, and they were stopping at a place near me for dinner.  Would I join them?  So, I walked to where they were.

It happened that the three medics who were with Eli had been at our barbecue last week. They had all been posted in the north, and they had a 24-hour leave before they had to report to Gaza today.  One of the medics told me it was quiet up north, and he wanted to do some medicine before he went to Gaza. (I later heard that they didn’t get any calls.) Another medic, who just graduated from med school and is scheduled to start his residency in December, said they are seeing something like what happened during COVID – sick people aren’t going to hospitals.  Also, there are many fewer traffic accidents, but that may be because until recently life in the cities really wasn’t anything like back to normal.

Their reasons for going north may be more complicated. I’ve heard several stories of soldiers who don’t use their leave, because it’s too disruptive to their families, especially if they have younger kids and the leave is very short.  It’s too much of an emotional yoyo for everyone.  Also, it’s possible that things were quiet where these medics were, but there has been a lot of activity near the Lebanon border. We heard that Dr. A, whom I mentioned in an earlier report, has dealt with several casualties.  I’m not sure about dead versus wounded.

I also heard that some of the others who attended the barbecue may not be with us anymore.  I don’t know if that’s correct, and if it is, I don’t know who has been killed or injured.  But I was thinking of one man there who told me he was a “trucker.”  The story is that, during his original army service after high school, he was assigned to drive a truck.  He got out of the army, went to medical school, and had just graduated.  He hasn’t started his residency, and he does not have a medical license, so he’s not a physician.  He’s also not a trained army medic.  So, the army still has him listed as a truck driver.  Obviously, he’s working with the medics.

Still thinking about the barbecue. There was a man there in his 70s or so, who was a medic in the ’73 war and has served in every Israel call-up since. Every medic in the army knows who he is, and they call him Saba (Hebrew for grandfather) Most of the medics at the barbecue were ready to go, but some were understandably anxious.  One man told me that this was all pretty easy when he was called up as a single man 10 years ago, but now he has a wife and young kids at home.  “This is different.”  Saba said that he can see by the look in their eyes who needs a quick word, and that is what he did at the barbecue.

Today, Eli said that he and Hatzolah Air’s head of logistics, Yossi, were heading to Ben Gurion to make some adjustments to their fixed-wing plane and did I want to go?  Yes.  As usual, things were thrown a bit off kilter because of the terrorist attack south of Jerusalem this morning.  The early reports about the outcome of the attack were confused to say the least.  Eventually, Eli was able to pick me up, and then Yossi.  Yossi made the point that this kind of attack was not unusual, even before October 7.  This was just a run-of-the-mill attack. I stick by my earlier statement that Jerusalem is still pretty safe.  I certainly feel safer hear than I do in several US cities I’ve been to this year (hear that, San Francisco?).

Eli drove us to the older part of the airport where the private jets are parked.  We went through tight security and walked onto the tarmac.  You can see the plane on the HA website.  It’s amazing inside and out.  Eli and Yossi were trying to figure out how they could reconfigure the seating for an upcoming mission overseas.

[A note about HA fixed wing versus helicopter: The helicopters operate within Israel.  The fixed wing aircraft go overseas to transport people in medical trouble – usually Israelis, but not always – to appropriate facilities.  The plane has been all over Europe, the Balkans, and North Africa.  It did a lot of work in Ukraine earlier in that war – both bringing people out and taking medical supplies in. There are several planes that service the US as well, usually taking Americans from one location to another in the States.  Recently, a plane based in New York flew to Antarctica to bring back a traveler who had a heart attack during an Antarctic cruise. They dropped him off somewhere, and then flew to DC to be on hand in case of problems at the rally.]

On the way back from the airport, we stopped for the best falafel in Israel – according to some.  I can state without qualification that this is almost certainly the oldest falafel shop in Israel.  The owner’s mother started the shop in 1967, and he took over about 50 years ago.  There’s a picture in the shop of Al Gore eating a falafel there when he was vice president.  While we were there, other people stopped in for what was obviously their regular fix.  Was the falafel good? Yes, but not exceptional.  My bet is that the people who go there want to support the shop as an institution, and the old fellow who runs it.  That was good enough for me.

I’ll be in Jerusalem at least through Sunday, and then, who knows?

November 19th

One more quick update after a quiet Shabbat.  Zvi Mendelsohn, who is a lawyer in Jerusalem, invited me to Shabbat dinner at a friend/client of his.  Our host was a Canadian businessman who spends about half the year in Jerusalem.  There were about 25 guests, and we went around the table to figure out how many degrees of separation there were from our host.  Zvi (first generation) brought me (second generation). There were one or two third generation guests.  There was also a lot of wine and alcohol, and everyone had a great time.

This morning (Sunday), I met a friend, Carol, whom I knew from my first trip to Israel in 1976.  She made Aliyah in 1984 and has lived/worked here since.  She has four children, three of whom have been called up and are who-knows-where.  But you can tell that this is the Israel she has lived with for nearly 40 years; this isn’t the first time her children have been called up, and that’s the life she chose.  I admire her strength.

Eli picked me up, and we went to lunch with Flour Hassan–Nahoum, the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem and a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman (spokeswoman? Spokesperson? Spoker?).  Some of you may have seen/heard her at the rally in DC last week.  She also had an interview with Shoshana Bryen of the JPC,  which is well worth reading. Our lunch was fantastic – I have no doubt that she will go far in post-war Israeli politics.

I have arranged to work on a farm down south starting tomorrow, for at least a few days.  It might have to be postponed because we’re being deluged with rain, and the forecast is for more tomorrow.  Still, the plan is to head to the farm in the morning, and then back to Jerusalem later in the week.  (Fleur asked me if I had a place to sleep at the farm. I showed her a picture of the shipping container. I think I’ll be fine.)

Both Carol and Fleur mentioned this sketch from the Israeli version of Saturday night live (it’s in English).  Evidently, it’s taking Israel by storm – they seem to think it’s hilarious.  I think it hits a bit too close to home, but I leave that to your own judgments.

I’ll send more news as it’s fit to print.