Monday, June 19, 2017

Zahal Shalom – Welcoming Israeli Vets



At the airport this morning, we said goodbye to our new friend that we met two weeks ago.  It is a bit sad, as we do not know when we shall see each other again, but through the wonders of technology, Debbie, Gab, Bec and I will be able to keep in touch.  In these brief two weeks, we have enjoyed time, meals, conversations and various activities helping to create a bond and shared memories.  For us, it was a chance to do something different, something a little outside our comfort zone, and an opportunity to help someone else.  But, I am getting a bit ahead of myself.

In 1993, I remember my parents telling Debbie and I that one of their close friends was starting a group to bring injured Israeli Vets to America and that they were going to join in a dinner for them.  “That’s nice,” I said and then promptly filed that away, along with the many other tidbits my parents told me about that did not directly concern me.  I know that my parents each year mentioned this annual hosting “thing.”  I do remember thinking that it was a nice thing to do.  However, starting and focusing on having a family, this item along with many others things that were not a priority proceeded to move out of my mind’s forefront and into some deeply locked area of my brain.  They say that our brain is one of the greatest computers ever developed and can retain immeasurable amounts of information to be stored for either current or future usage. 

Fast forward to 2017…About two months ago, Debbie called me to say that friends of ours asked if we would be a buddy-family for some group called Zahal Shalom.  “What is that and what do I have to do,” was my first response.  OK, a little cold on my part, but unfortunately, if I took on something new, it meant making room within my busy schedule for something else that would need to have my attention.  As Debbie was explaining this to me, it dawned on us that this might be the same group founded by my parent’s friend 25 years ago.  Now this mitzvah (good deed) had some sentimental value. 

Finally, after weeks of waiting, the group from Israel arrived and we met our former soldier, Yan.  All we knew was that he was in his 30s, recently married, an engineer and liked to swim.  The first time I met Yan was over a family dinner with the host family, their parents and us (buddy family).  We all felt a connection while engaging in the ancient ritual of breaking bread together and happily welcomed Yan into our little group.  This was a great beginning and over the next few days, our friendships grew.

While Yan and the other nine vets were in the US, they had a series of planned trips to New York that include museums, sites, meals and a Broadway show.  They also went on a 3-day trip to Washington D.C., where our local Congressman met with them.  Of course, there was some time for shopping and a little free time to do some activities with the host and buddy family.  These were two busy weeks for our visitors, and unbeknownst to us when we signed on, for us as well.

Debbie went with Yan on trips to NYC and a High School presentation.  Gab took Yan shopping and all you can eat sushi.  I went to a blues club in Greenwich Village with the group.  Together, with our friends and family, we drove to Queens so Yan could visit with family, went to various dinners (including one at our house), desserts, and a fun Zahal Shalom pool party.  At the organization’s 25th Gala Celebration, it was great to see the happy faces and watch these vets, no matter what they went through, leave their issues off the dance floor, and dance with abandonment at the celebration of life. 

As humans, one of our greatest gifts is to give of ourselves and of our time, to helping others.  In the end, this was our personal “investment” in this wonderful program.  Best of all, we have made a new friend, to visit when either we go to Israel, or, next time he comes back here.

For more information, or to help support this wonderful organization, please visit http://www.zahalshalom.com/.