An IDF military base near Shechem (Nablus) was packed when busloads of American-Israeli visitors celebrated the holidays of Chanukah and Thanksgiving with Israeli soldiers, bringing gift packages of warm clothing and thousands of letters of support from around the world.
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Soldiers at that base belong to the elite “Givati” (highland) brigade. The party, organized by United with Israel and Thank Israeli Soldiers, included a full turkey dinner, music and dancing. It was an opportunity not only to show appreciation to the courageous defenders of the land and the people of Israel – and the Free World – but also to observe the holidays in a truly meaningful way, as Hanukkah and Thanksgiving are both based on the concepts of freedom and gratitude.
Thousands of letter-writers and gift-givers included Jews and non-Jews from places as diverse as Singapore, Thailand, Germany, England, the US, Brazil and Australia – to name a few.
“We say thank you not only from the people here, but on behalf of millions all over the world…in over 100 countries,” said United with Israel’s Michael Gerbitz, addressing the soldiers, some of whom had immigrated to Israel from America.
“We love the USA,” he continued. “It’s a great country, a country of chesed [kindness]…but Israel is our home. Our message to those Jews who are not yet fortunate to be here: Enjoy America, but join us here.”
The base is located about 40 miles north of Jerusalem, near the historically Jewish city of Shechem (aka Nablus), which is under the administration of the Palestinian Authority and includes a population of more than 130,000 Arabs. “Absolutely no Jews are allowed there,” a soldier clarified to the visitors.
Shechem has become a hotbed of terrorism, where the IDF participates in some of its most hazardous undertakings. As the soldier explained during a stopover on Mount Gerizim, overlooking Shechem and Joseph’s Tomb, “there is always action. Ninety percent of the time we catch the people who try to do harm. It’s never boring.”
Fluent in English, he had no qualms about telling the guests: “You are now in one of the most dangerous places in all of Israel.”
“You’re actually meeting some of the bravest people you’ll ever meet in your life,” declared Mimi Jankovits, executive director of Thank Israeli Soldiers. “They’re protecting all of us.”
Gerbitz explained the historic importance of Shechem as the “heartland of the Jewish people.” According to the Bible, it was the patriarch Abraham’s first destination upon entering the Land of Canaan (Israel); the Hebrew forefather Jacob bought land in Shechem for Jews to settle upon their return to the Holy Land.
Gerbitz also pointed to the significance of Joseph’s burial there. “Joseph was perhaps the most successful Jew outside of Israel, and he longed to come back here,” he said.
“The Arabs care so much about Shechem because they understand that the city is deeply symbolic of the connection of the Jewish soul to the Land of Israel,” he asserted.
Chanukah celebrates not only a military, but also a spiritual, victory; it is a triumph of light over darkness. In this spirit, the menorah used to recite the holiday blessings was made from rockets that were fired into Israel from Gaza; material originally used to bring darkness to the world has been transformed into a tool to create light.
“It feels great to know there are supporters from all over the world,” a beaming soldier acknowledged. Indeed, these young men and women serving their country seemed overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and concern, saying they had no idea that so many people across the globe understood their mission.
The campaign to send warm winter packages and personal greetings to the soldiers is ongoing. Click here to participate.
Author: Atara Beck, Staff Writer for United with Israel
Date: Dec. 2, 2013