A unit of discharged Israeli soldiers participating in the Peace of Mind program joined us for a special Peace of Mind Shabbat dinner on May 20. Eli, a participant in the weeklong program, spoke to the Congregation about his experience here. Please see below for his presentation.
My name is Eli.
First, I would like to apologize for reading from the paper but I have to if I want to do this right . . .
So a bit about us. We are all members of the same platoon of an infantry unit called OREV GIVATY. This is a unit that specializes in anti-tanks activity, that’s why we call ourselves “the tank hunters”. However, when there’s no tanks around, we function as a regular infantry unit.
We started as a collection of guys coming from different areas and different backgrounds. One of us, Oscar, was even a lone soldier coming from Latvia only to join the army. So one day, we all found ourselves together in a tent in the middle of the desert looking around and wondering how we got here and who all these people are. After a few months of training, this very diverse group of people became one organic platoon, one body. Each and every one of us knew that when the time comes, his friend will be there to save his life or put his own life instead.
When we finished our training period, we went to Gaza and there we stayed for the rest of our military service. We’ve been through a lot during these 2 or 3 years there. Gaza was a real war zone and most of the time, we had the upper hand. Believe me, we are full with stories of how heroes we were and how many terrorists we killed. However, one day this deep feeling of superiority that characterized our platoon was crushed by the death of three dear friends during a battle against terrorists in the northern area of the Gaza strip. Their names were Haim Hezki Gutman, a member of our platoon, Anatoly Karasik, our commander officer, and Alex Gladkov, a member of a parallel platoon.
To be honest, when we signed up for this program, most of us just thought about the free trip to Canada. We knew that we had gone through a lot but we are strong warriors, that nothing affects us. And more so, we all continued with our lives—most of us are married with children and have a career, so we’re fine.
And then a month ago, as part of the program, we had a two day workshop back in Israel, and that was the first time we really talked about these experiences. And only then we realized how important this program is for us and how all of these events we experienced 14 years ago are going with us and present in all aspects of our lives. The reason I’m telling you all this is to give you a slight feeling of how big your contribution is to our well-being and how much you are doing for us. This journey we’re in is possible only thanks to you.
How can I put to words our deep feeling of appreciation and gratitude? My English vocabulary is not rich enough to express it. We feel so fortunate to be a part of a nation that its people keep a strong connection to each other even though they are thousands of miles apart. Right at start, when we landed in the airport, Patricia and Tanya accepted us with a big welcome sign and a hug. It’s amazing that we were able to live in the houses of strangers and feel like home. The families opened their houses as well as their hearts for us, and did everything in order to make us feel comfortable. An example for such an effort was the fact that you were so worried that we won’t like your coffee (probably because Felicia told you that we need it in order to breath or something like that . . . ) that you bought coffee especially for us and always made sure it fit our standards. One of the guys here described the feeling of coming home to the hosting family as the feeling of a young boy coming back home from school. I couldn’t describe it better . . .
You always say how privileged you feel to be able to host us and be a part of this program. I want to tell you that we felt privileged to be warrior soldiers and serve the country and the week we spent here just reinforced our feeling of satisfaction and the belief that it was all worth it. We found here a loving and warm community, and I believe that I can speak in behalf of all of us when I say that now we have some new family members here in Canada.
This week was very meaningful for us. None of this would have happened without your support and your warm hospitality which enabled us to combine the serious heavy talks during the day with fun and relaxation during the evenings. This combination was crucial for the success of this program.
I want to thank all of the people that were involved in the arrangements of this week, especially Felicia and the POM committee of Beth Tzedec who worked very hard before and during this week, and always with a big smile on their faces. I want to thank again the families, the amazing families! And a big thank you I want to say to our two mentors, Yuval and Udi, who always knew how make all this work and to navigate our way throughout this journey.
Before I finish I just want to mention again the people that are not with us today and say that they will always be with us wherever we go.
Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.
MARK YOU CALENDARS: The next unit of Peace of Mind discharged soldiers will be arriving at Beth Tzedec on June 4, 2017. Watch for details in the coming weeks.