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Eating With Your Soldier - 26

Visiting the warzone

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be so close to a war zone that you could visit your relatives fighting the war? David understood. And so do Israelis.

Now Jesse said to his son David, "Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines." (1 Sam. 17:17-19)

I lived most of my life in America. When I think of the most recent American wars—World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the two Gulf Wars, and Afghanistan—not one of them was fought on American soil. The idea of taking supplies to your children or husband or even your wife in the battle zone was unthinkable. But I remember the day we visited my daughter in the midst of war as she served in an intelligence unit in the Israeli Defense Forces.

But first, there was one day in 2009 that Elana and I and some friends took supplies to soldiers on the front lines. This was during one of our wars with Hamas in Gaza. First, we stopped very close to the border with Gaza. We had a friend who was an officer that got us in. I remember seeing a soldier on the side of the road with his family. They had pulled over and pulled out a pakal café—a military-issued Turkish coffee unit.

The family was drinking coffee together and enjoying one another's company. Very soon, their son would go back to war. It was a sight that I had never seen.

Afterward, we went to where the tanks were. I have never seen so many tanks in my life. It was early morning, and the soldiers were just waking up. We showed up with chocolate and coffee, underwear, and socks. At first, we were told not to take pictures, but soon all the soldiers were gathering for photos with us. It was a surreal experience for sure.

But then, in 2014, my daughter found herself with an important position in a war with Hamas. Elana and I were in America when the war broke out, and we hurried to get home to Israel. It was hard to get a flight because Hamas was threatening to shoot down airliners. A day or two after we finally got home, we went down to Ashkelon and picked up Elana's mother. As we were leaving the city, the sirens began to blare. This was the signal to take cover as rockets were incoming.

The Iron Dome took out the missile, and we continued on our journey. We went to our daughter's base just a few kilometers from the border of Gaza. On the way, we saw a farm that had been turned into an R&R center for soldiers. The war had been going on for a few weeks, but much of life in Israel had continued unabated. But then there was the ground invasion. My daughter and her commander were actually on the phone with a tank commander when his line went dead. Those were the first seven soldiers to die.

It was a devastating moment for our daughter Danielle. But she also testified that at the same time, she had never experienced such unity between a group of people regarding a mission, as she did at that moment.

After the death of these soldiers, Israelis poured into the south to support our brave warriors. Before we got to Danielle's base, we stopped at this R&R farm. It was amazing what we saw. There were all kinds of food, from chicken sandwiches to hamburgers. You could get a haircut or a massage. Israelis volunteered their time, money and food, to send a message to our young men and women—we've got your back. I took a ton of photos.

The three of us climbed back in the car and headed to Danielle's base. We all sat outside the base, drinking coffee and eating cookies. Suddenly the sirens went off. My mother-in-law, not being so nimble, could not get to cover, so I stayed with her. On the bases, they have these massive cement cylinders that serve as bomb shelters. There are enough of them so that soldiers will always have time to get to one. Then another boom in the sky—the Iron Dome got the rocket.

We headed home to Tel Aviv.

It was a crazy day. I had no fear but was full of pride to see how Israelis took care of the young soldiers—just like Jesse did for his sons so long ago.

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