We are in the city of Be’er Sheva, getting ready to move on to the second half of our voyage, the good work completed as of today. The name Be’er Sheva translates as the Seven Bears. We are generally familiar with the story of the Three Bears; with Jews however, “one was too hot, one was too cold” does not go far enough. In addition to temperature concerns, add “one is too big, one is too small, one didn’t come with dressing on the side, one wasn’t gluten free, and one couldn’t be wrapped up with the leftovers to be taken home.” Ergo, the Seven Bears. And here they spell her name Goldie Lox.
But enough of such foolishness. Lori and I have again had the privilege to serve, offset by extraordinary good fortune to have met fascinating people from all walks of life, to be exposed to those who are both giving and receiving loving care all the while absorbing culture and warmth and treated as welcome guests wherever we have gone.
Following a week on kibbutz our placement for week two was at a centre for youth at risk.
An environment has been created to help those aged 12 to 18 rediscover, or discover for the first time, a sense of purpose and love. Children who have come from all walks of life and all ethnicities – Russian, Ethiopian, Israeli and others. Broken families, abusive parents, abandonment, poverty have all had a chance to kick these children around, affording them a sense of distrust, pain and anger, damaging their psyches to the point of dysfunction. Nine years ago Ogen, or ‘Anchor’ was established out of the desert dust. The project is a donation of a Montreal based foundation, the Miriam and Saul Goldberg Estate.
The benefactors of the estate are a Montreal couple – David Stein, former partner of a well known Montreal accounting firm and his wife Susan Stromberg Stein, a well known artist. The campus consists of several buildings on a large landscaped terrain hosting a multi-disciplinary set of services. Children who seek refuge are offered immediate shelter and can stay as long as three months.
In addition to emergency triage, psychiatric services are available if needed along with education, life skill development, boarding facilities for those in need of long care placement all provided by a well trained and dedicated staff who view their work as more of a calling than a job. But don’t take my word for it. Lori, who happens to be a black belt social worker, considers the facilities, services provided and staff and volunteers, to be the most comprehensive array of social services in one contained area she has ever come across.
We were assigned numerous tasks in our all too short a stay. Everything from mowing the grounds
to cooking meals, sitting in on classes, holding Q&A sessions in English, participating in games
and activities to just being there. As is usually the case, we received at least as much as we gave. Whether discussing Real Madrid vs Manchester United with some of the boys, or showing pictures of Montreal blanketed in snow, we made an impact. To add a brand new dimension to the scenario, our son Trevor had visited the center and interacted with some of the kids
and staff just a few months back. To see and hear his effect on those he met gave Lori and I a sense of pride, knowing that a direction that we have set out on years back has been carried forward by our offspring. The blessings keep on coming.
Then there is the whole other side to the equation. Through the auspices of Federation CJA, specifically Allison Cobrin and Arie Levy, the local rep to the Partnership, we have been introduced to a broad spectrum of individuals, each of whom made or continue to make their mark on local society. A few nights back we were invited to the home of Liora Blaiberg. She is a 9th generation Israeli whose life belongs in a book if not a movie. She has lived all over the planet as a resilt of her father’s military postings. She has met and spent time with political leaders, business leaders and those responsible for changing the face of the world in many different ways. Dinner guests that night included the ever present Hannukiah (6 candles),
former medical and business superstars representing septegenarians who have settled in Israel from all over the world, including Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco. As the Israeli national sport is the discussion of politics, with an election in the offing, it did not take long for the subject to be tabled.
There is a sense of desperation hitherto unfelt by me in hearing Israelis discuss their destiny. Whereas a certain sense of dynamic invincibility has pervaded conversations as far back as I can remember, there is a feeling amongst many that Israel has been painted into a corner. With the ongoing deterioration of European support, along with its accompanying boycotts, Israel’s sense of isolation increases.
The biggest issue stems from tepid US support at the highest levels. The Obama governemnt actively withheld armaments to the Israelis when they needed it most this past summer. The Iron Dome, a technological defense system that provided a security blanket from the influx of enemy missiles began to run low on defense missiles. The US initially refused to supply more product. Israel now knows that it can no longer count on its previously staunch ally to come through in the clutch.
The Israelis seem resigned to having to take a serious risk to reach out to their neighbours to try to make peace despite a void in the form of any voice ready to listen. The only name that continuously arose in discussion was Abu Muzin, an elder statesman on the West Bank. While certainly not an overt supporter of Israel, he is seen as being the best of the worst. Most interestingly, I scratched the surface of doves and hawks the same evening. The doves, who are ready to gamble on a precarious peace, citing no other choice, would, given the theoretical unconditional and unlimited military support of the US, press on and fight the Arabs, effectively punishing them to the point that they would be forced to come to the table to recognize Israel’s right to exist within defined and defendable territory.
Conversely, when I put forth to the hawks the scenario whereby a true and lasting peace with the Arabs would be agreed upon if Israel returned to pre-1967 borders, to a man, they would jump on the prospect in a nano-second. From my point of view the people who live here are tired, mentally stressed and fed up with running to the shelters. They fear for their children’s future and want to end the existing stalemate. It is felt by the majority of those with whom I’ve spoken that standing still with the status quo is the equivalent of moving backwards. Peace is the desired product. How to attain it remains the country’s largest and most elusive question.