In late July, Ronnie and Elliot Robinson, parents of alumni, traveled to Israel from Skokie to bring chizuk and supplies to soldiers and residents of the south. After a full day of traveling near the war zone, Ronnie wrote the following message to family and friends. She was kind enough to allow us to reprint it here.
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 and for the tons of people living in communities around Gaza. Marc Provisor, One Israel Fund’s director of security projects, 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 חדשות about the five chayalim who fell the night before.
We pull into a staging area. In front of us, there 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 חיילים just returning from actual fighting in Gaza-how can we be afraid?! We start unloading our stuff – clotting gauze, wound sealers, material stretchers, flashlights, duffels, and our secret weapon – Romanian salamis. Now our soldiers are equipped with Chicago חיזק! And, as we pull out amid hugs and safe wishes 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, where they receive daily shelling. We give them a large magnetic searchlight for their patrol jeep, and they are too grateful for words. In my head I think, “I wish I had 100!”
The birds are chirping as we eat fresh figs under a shade tree when we hear the צבע האדום warning of an incoming missile and run to the 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.
Netiv Ha-Asara, a quiet idyllic moshav is our next stop. We roll in alongside a large, twisted barb wire fence to 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 as their ears perk up and run on their own to shelter.
The gratitude is palpable as we unwrap our magical gifts. They are a poor moshav, whose members originally came from a moshav in Sinai and were relocated here on the border some 30 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 נחל עוז is 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. נחל עוז is now primarily vacant as 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 was when they bring in the fallen soldiers from the front. We sit in the shelter and discuss what he desperately needs: walkie talkies and other 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 is safe again – 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 more of our Chicago secret weapon to some young and beautiful חיילים. They sit in the blazing sun dressed in heavy, protective armor in the entrance way to עזה.
The noises start again so it’s 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!
On the road we go – it’s one field after another of army tanks, soldiers, tents – we are definitely in the zone!
We pull into עלומים. I remember visiting here during my year in Israel and remembering how beautiful it was! Now, in front there is a large green tent for soldiers filled with drinks and snacks and rest areas. 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. Elliott has found another person who also believes rules are for everyone else!! In a cloud of sand dust we find the soldiers and search for their medic. We pass out more much-needed medical supplies amid the constant noise overhead. I asked Marc where we are and he answered, “I can’t tell you.” I thought to myself I’m from Skokie, what am I doing here?
I start keeping a written list of what we’ve distributed. We meet more soldiers, actually kids, and all of a sudden we realize that we know this one’s aunt, then another one’s family. It is truly amazing. All they want to do is to talk and tell stories. We then make yet another list of what they need.
With lumps in our throats, we know that tonight these soldiers will be headed into Gaza. Along the way we see a חיל hitchhiking and, of course, Elliott yells out, “pick him up” and so we did. By this time, we are covered from head to toe in white sand and of course I’m dressed in black so you can imagine what I look like. What a day.
I know this is lengthy but what could I leave out? The spirit, determination, dedication, faith and מסירת נפש of everyone I met was truly unbelievable. חובה וזכות – my duty and my privilege.
We head back to Yerushalayim with much responsibility: to pray for all of our new friends and to spread the word of how much is needed.
We finished our day in a tiny hole in the wall in Sderot where I had the best humus of my life – a perfect end to an incredible day.
We made it back to Yerushalayim with our hearts still in the zone.
May we all be privileged to see peace very soon.
Ronni…with Elliott Robinson
P.S. We are only your שליחים, all of your wonderful donations made this possible. Please keep them coming.