TORONTO — Growing up about 90 minutes north of Toronto in the small town of Midland, Ontario with her Catholic father and Protestant mother, a young Elizabeth Gunther could be excused from never really giving Israel a second thought.
In fact, in the town of 16,000, bereft of Hebrews, the now 42 year old readily admits that the only Jews she “knew” as a child were the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, who graced her television screen.
But today, since her conversion to Judaism and subsequent marriage to IDF veteran Doron Horowitz, the Jewish people and Israel often occupy the mind of Elisheva Horowitz, now a second-grade schoolteacher.
And all the more so since her husband is currently serving in a voluntary three-week stint in East Jerusalem, an epicenter of the current wave of Palestinian violence.
Horowitz, who has annually served in Israel for the last decade, made a promise to himself that he would continue to volunteer until the age of 50. About to turn 51 in November, Horowitz snuck in another tour of duty, and has joined a unit of Israel’s border police. Over the past month, a number of his brethren have been attacked by knife-wielding Palestinians.
‘When Doron does his service in Israel, I’m doing my part too by serving something greater than myself’
“Growing up where I did, I didn’t know anything about Israel; I had no idea what Zionism was, and I had never seen a real gun up close,” says Elisheva, who visited Israel for the first time in 2006, where Doron proposed to her. “But, obviously, a lot has changed.”
The couple married in 2007, following Elisheva’s Orthodox conversion to Judaism.
“Through my conversion, I learned a love for Israel and about the importance of protecting and defending her. Now, the Jewish state is an important part of who I am, and I feel that, when Doron does his service in Israel, I’m doing my part too by serving something greater than myself. In my own way, I am doing my job in supporting him, and giving him the peace of mind he needs to do his duty in Israel, by taking care of our girls,” says Elisheva.
For Doron, originally from Regina, Saskatchewan, this tenth year of service is his most challenging.
“The situation here is very bad, and we are much more engaged in the villages in terms of disrupting any activity that is terror related,” he says during a recent telephone call just before beginning a 12-hour shift. “I’ve already been involved in raids, pipe bombs, I’ve had Molotov cocktails thrown at me and have been subjected to tear gas, as well as rocks and face-to-face engagement.”
Still, despite the onslaught of Palestinian violence, Doron says he remains in awe of the people he is protecting.
“The overall resiliency of Israelis never ceases to amaze me,” he says. “Despite the general fear and anxiety brought on by this latest wave of violence, the country continues to operate. The people still get up and go to work, they do their shopping, and their children go to school.
“However, in East Jerusalem it’s anything but normal. There is a heightened presence of security and the increased sense of anxiety that goes with that,” says Doron.
Doron says the personal nature of the attacks compounds their terror.
‘The impact, unlike suicide bombings or other terrorist activities, of looking into the eyes of your attacker as he plunges a knife into your neck or chest, is unexplainable’
“The psychological impact of a stabbing; the intimate interaction between a terrorist and his victim, is unprecedented,” he explains. “The impact, unlike suicide bombings or other terrorist activities, of looking into the eyes of your attacker as he plunges a knife into your neck or chest, is unexplainable. It’s just horrible.”
Wife Elisheva says their daughters, seven and five, know that Abba is protecting the people of Israel and, by extension, the Jewish people. But they have shielded them from the stark realities involved in their father’s role.
“I don’t like to watch the news because, yes, it scares me, and it would definitely scare the girls. In the back of my mind, there’s always that ‘what if?’ — as in what if he’s the soldier who gets stabbed one day,” says Elisheva.
“But, generally, I try not to think of the violence that is being perpetrated against the Israelis these days. I don’t see Doron that way as he’s always so gentle and kind to me and our daughters. But it’s a different world he’s facing in East Jerusalem. I definitely daven more while Doron’s away. My Judaism helps me get through this,” she says.
As does the support of her parents, John and Carole, who move in with Elisheva and the girls each time Doron serves. Also protecting the mishpucha is Goldie, the family’s 100-pound bouvier, named after the fourth prime minister of Israel.
But why would a healthy, happily-married, loving father of two beautiful young girls, who had already served in the Israeli Defense Forces, voluntarily risk his life for the people of Israel?
“Look, I left Saskatchewan for Israel when I was eight, because my mother, who was born in Jerusalem, and is buried in Jerusalem, wanted to move back home,” says Doron, owner of Insight Security Consulting. “I am my mother’s son. That’s why I took her maiden name, to ensure that my daughters would know of her, and honor her as she so richly deserves.”
‘To have the opportunity to serve with my brothers in Israel is one of the greatest expressions of my Judaism’
Doron left Israel after serving in the army in 1985, but he says, “Israel never left my heart.”
“For me, to have the opportunity to serve with my brothers in Israel is one of the greatest expressions of my Judaism. I always took a lot of pride in not just talking the talk, but to give the best of who I am to the country I believe in. I’ll always do what I can to protect Israel. I believe in this special place as a human being and as a Jew.”
And while, for two to three weeks every year, Doron leaves his family behind to join his Israeli brothers in protecting the Jewish state, he knows that without the support of Elisheva, he simply couldn’t do what he does.
“My home is with my wife and kids, and I miss them terribly,” he said. “I also know that my kids are learning an important lesson about serving something greater than themselves, and to me, there’s nothing greater than the State of Israel.”
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