They say that life is the best classroom. Being in Israel during Operation Pillar of Defence has certainly attested to this idea.
I am from Perth, Western Australia, and am studying for a semester at Hebrew U in Jerusalem. In one psychology class, we examined a study of the traumatic effects of the “Code Red” siren on Israeli citizens in the south. Ten minutes later, the siren sounded here at Hebrew University and I rushed along with everyone else to the underground bomb shelter.
Once I emerged from the bomb shelter I asked myself a question: what now?
Option 1: get on with my life as though nothing happened.
Option 2: crawl up into a ball and contemplate my mortality
Option 3: try to do something positive.
If I were a soldier, I would have rallied at the Gaza border. If I were a politician, I would have given a stirring speech at the UN. But I am just me. A girl from Perth with a student’s budget, a packed university schedule and a mother begging for her sanity that I stay out of the south.
I called up WIZO in Tel Aviv to ask for advice. I explained that I wanted to help somehow. I told them the truth: all I had were my good intentions, good friends and a free Wednesday morning. Turned out, this was enough. Annette, my wonderful supervisor from the summer internship I had with WIZO a few months ago, gave me the number of Yossi Levy. She explained to me that Yossi ran the WIZO Hadassim Youth Village near Netanya and overnight they had evacuated fifty children from southern communities to their facilities. A few phone calls later, my plan was in action. I couldn’t personally stop Hamas from firing rockets but I could make life a little bit easier for fifty scared and lonely children.
It was Monday night when I sent out a message to my friends here at Hebrew University explaining what I was trying to do. In one night, my friends donated over one thousand shekels – no questions asked. On Tuesday afternoon, I bought out half of Ben Yehuda’s toy stores. On Wednesday morning, I was on my way to Netanya with five bags full of games, books and toys.
Upon my arrival at the WIZO Hadassim Youth Village, I was blown away by the warmth and gratitude of my ‘welcoming committee’. The staff and volunteers explained to me that these toys were part of the rehabilitative process for these children. Time spent playing a board game was a moment free from worry and stress for their families still stuck in the south.
I said earlier that life is the best classroom. I learned that there is no such thing as being useless. Just because we cannot play the hero does not mean we cannot play our part. I did not change the outcome of Operation Pillar of Defence. Neither did the people who hosted families from the south for Shabbat or drove to the south to deliver food and warm clothes to the soldiers or kept children company in the bomb shelters. But these actions most certainly made a difference. This is what helps Israel survive. The rockets can force us into a bomb shelter but it cannot force us into apathy. So whether or not this ceasefire holds true, we have won.