When I was fourteen my older cousin was deployed to Viet Nam. Although protests against the war had not reached the zenith of their momentum I already knew that this conflict was different from the ones I’d learned about in history. It was not a war to end all wars nor was it a battle to make the world safe for democracy. Still, I understood that my cousin was in a danger zone and could be killed. So one hot afternoon another cousin and I decided to make cookies and ship them out to him.
I have no idea what kind of shape those cookies were in when they reached their destination but we definitely had a great time making them. And if the cookies arrived stale or moldy I’m sure our cousin appreciated our caring thoughts. We were doing what civilians have done throughout history, namely trying to give moral support to those defending us on the battlefields.
Here, in Israel, the land of the proverbial Yiddishe Mama, that support has been taken to a whole new height. Last summer, during Defensive Shield, the stories of caring were almost unbelievable. Individuals and corporations sent presents to the front that ranged from home baked goods to underwear, from trays of restaurant food to over-the-counter medicines, from sleeping bags to prayer shawls, and more. The gifts kept coming and coming to the point that the soldiers joked the only thing they were missing was backpacks to bring all their goodies home. Finally the army told the civilians to stop sending to the soldiers and instead worry about their families waiting for them at home.
Thankfully, Defensive Shield ended but not the war and our soldiers continue to put their lives on the line daily. So recently when we took a short vacation, not too far from our son-in-law’s army base, we decided to detour slightly and deliver some treats for Shabbat. As we drove along a windy road that I’d never been on I marveled at the scenery. Lush green hillsides were a feast for my eyes until I noticed the double barbed wire fence running parallel just a meter or so from our highway. That barrier marked the Israeli-Lebanese border and I realized Hezbollah could rain rockets upon us in just a matter of seconds. Thankfully, they did not.
Our son-in-law met us at the entrance of a northern moshav, minutes from his base. Truthfully, all the sweets that we gave him probably could have been bought at the moshav’s grocery store, but that was missing the point. We wanted to do something to thank him and his army buddies. My husband was rewarded with a hug and I got a smile from our soldier. It was well worth the detour.
The following day I was in a Safed synagogue when the prayer for the IDF soldiers was recited. This prayer was composed by former Chief Rabbi, Rav Shlomo Goren, zt”l. Since it is a fairly recent work it does not appear in every prayer book. It is noticeably absent from mine but I stood for its recitation as I do every Shabbat. This time, though, I paid particular attention to the words.
He Who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- may He bless the fighters of the Israel Defense Forces, who stand guard over our land and the cities of our God, from the border of the Lebanon to the desert of Egypt, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the prairie, on the land, in the air, and on the sea.
May the Almighty cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue our fighters from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor.
May He lead our enemies under our soldiers’ sway and may He grant them salvation and crown them with victory. And may there be fulfilled for them the verse: For it is the Lord your God, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you.
Now let us respond: Amen.
I had just seen how close our soldiers were to the Lebanese border. I knew that each and every one of them is someone’s child, someone’s friend. Many have a spouse and children. All of them have put their lives on hold to defend you and me. It’s nice to send them cookies and Coke. It’s imperative for us to pray for their safety.
There is a website http://www.shmiraproject.com/ that matches caring individuals with the names of a personal soldiers they can include in their own prayers.