JERUSALEM (JTA) — Perhaps with the worries about rockets flying and death tolls mounting during the Gaza operation, many lost sight of the myriad heartwarming stories from the conflict. Here are some you may have missed in recent days.
Meet Lt. Eitan, hero
Israelis held their collective breath last week after learning that an Israeli soldier was believed to have been taken captive through one of the tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel.
Lt. Hadar Goldin was later declared dead, based on several factors. One consideration included the partial remains that had been snatched from the kidnappers by a soldier identified as 2nd Lt. Eitan.
At risk to his life and well aware it was against protocol, Eitan chased the kidnappers through the Gaza tunnel that his Givati Brigade company was in the process of destroying when confronted by the terrorists.
His actions prevented Israel from being caught in a new hostage situation, like the one with soldier Gilad Shalit, for whom the government traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Eitan left Gaza when the 72-hour ceasefire began and visited Goldin’s home to pay a shiva call even before returning to see his parents, emigres from New York, in Jerusalem.
One person at the meeting described it to Ynet as “chilling and emotional” as Eitan returned to Hadar’s parents some of his personal effects, including his Siddur, tefillin and cellphone. Eitan told the parents about the events leading up to their son’s death and that Goldin was a valued officer.
The parents thanked Eitan for the information and for putting his life in danger in the tunnel to retrieve their son.
Personal thanks from soldiers
Israeli children sent thousands of letters to soldiers serving in and around Gaza to raise their spirits.
Late last month, an army jeep stopped in front of a home in central Israel looking for the family’s 9-year-old daughter. The concerned family asked what the solders wanted. They replied that they wanted to thank the girl personally for the letter she had sent.
The soldiers met the girl and left with as many baked goodies from the house as they could carry.
My soldier watches over me
A 5-year-old boy named Gabi from Carmiel sent a letter accompanied by an action figure to a soldier serving in Gaza.
“I’m sending you my soldier,” said the letter, which was posted on Facebook. “He watches over me at night so I won’t be afraid, but you have it much harder, so I am sending it to you so that he will watch over you guys. If you get sad, you can also play with him. Thank you for protecting me and my family. When I’m older I’ll protect you.”
The soldier is trying to locate Gabi to thank him personally.
The soldiers serving in Gaza could not call home from the combat zone, but even when they could leave the area and make a call, they often found their cellphone batteries were dead with no way to recharge them.
Tzohar, a religious Zionist rabbinical organization in Israel, purchased the stock of 4,000 cellphone stick chargers from the one Israeli company that provides them already fully charged and sent them to the frontlines last Friday. It allowed the soldiers to call home before the Sabbath and alleviate the anxiety of their families.
“Being able to call home to wish a Shabbat Shalom to my mother will not only make her feel better, but renews my strength in this important mission,” Ophir, an officer in the Golani Brigade, said upon receiving a charger, according to Tzohar. “You have no idea how much this means to us.”
Hear the one about…?
American comedians Ari Teman and Danny Cohen brought their talents to Israel to cheer up civilians in bomb shelters and neighborhoods in southern Israel.
The comics called their week of stand-up shows “Rocket Shelter Comedy.”
They also performed free shows in Tel Aviv, Modiin and Jerusalem, joined by Israeli comedians Benji Lovitt and Yossi Tarablus, though they requested donations for lone soldiers.
Supporting the South, feeding the needy
Leket Israel — The National Food Bank purchased hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of food products from vendors in southern Israel hard hit by the conflict and delivered the goods to people living in communities surrounding Gaza.
While providing the needy with basic necessities, the organization was supporting businesses in the South that have been slammed financially by the barrage of rockets fired on their communities in recent weeks.
Leket Israel, also the country’s largest food-rescue organization, bought the goods from vendors in Sderot, Ofakim, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Nitzan and Netivot, some of the areas hit hardest by the conflict.
One was Solomon Cohen, the owner of Super Cohen, a mini-market in Sderot.
“Because my shop is located on the outskirts of Sderot, where mostly young families live, we have been suffering terribly since more than 70 percent of the community left at the beginning of the war for the center and the north of the country,” he said.
Cohen has lived in Sderot for 55 years, since making aliyah from Morocco, and said he could not recall a time as difficult as the past few weeks.
The kindness of strangers
Israelis love their soldiers, especially during conflict. During Operation Protective Edge, Israelis went above and beyond in sending food, goodies and toiletries to the soldiers at the front — even socks and underwear! The public also sent thousands of pizzas and bottles of soda.
Communities, municipalities and volunteer committees delivered challahs or flowers or cakes to the thousands of families who had a father or son called up for the war effort.
In fact, so much stuff was sent that the Israel Defense Forces called on the public to stop, saying it “could interfere with operational alertness or the fighters’ health.” The donations were directed to the Association for the Well-being of Israel’s Soldiers, known as the Libi Fund.
Some $4.6 million was donated to the association throughout the operation, and $725,000 to other funds.
Wounded soldiers were swamped with love, including an overwhelming number of hospital visitors who were mostly unknown to them.
Soldiers in uniform throughout the country also reported being treated to cups of coffee, breakfasts and other treats, also by strangers.
Looking out for the women left behind
Two soldiers who were killed last week in the Gaza operation were to be married in the coming weeks. Their fiancees stood with the soldiers’ families at the funerals and shivas.
Several other slain soldiers left behind longtime girlfriends who were devastated by the deaths.
These women deserve recognition and support from the Defense Ministry, lawmaker Aliza Lavie of the Yesh Atid party said this week.
The Israel Defense Forces and the Defense Ministry show support and tend to the families of the fallen soldiers, and must do the same for the fiancees and girlfriends, Lavie asserted in a letter to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, whose cousin, Hadar Goldin, was engaged to be married.
Lavie said officers should visit the women to tell them of their loved one’s death, just as they do for the immediate family, and employers should be required to provide time off to attend the shiva. Psychological assistance should be provided as needed, too.
Twenty-seven of the girlfriends of fallen soldiers in the Gaza operation are soldiers themselves, Lavie noted, and should have had an official escort from their company to the funeral.