Chanukah (or Hanukah – depends how you prefer to spell it) is my favourite Chag. It is about light, joy and the miracle of triumph over insurmountable odds. Okay, so it also all about sufganiyot (donuts) and we have all tried our hardest to fight the annual assault of calories that come in every imaginable flavor!
It is perhaps no coincidence that I live in Modiin, the home of the Maccabees. What could be more special than bringing a little bit more light every night for eight days, especially during these dark times?
Keeping a watchful eye…and making sure to light Chanukah candles
Last Thursday I was extremely happy to accept an invitation from Hershey’s for Heroes, an organization that delivers Hershey chocolate bars to soldiers on bases all over the country with personalized notes attached. This initiative, started by Michael Ganoe, from Insight to Israel, has seen Americans from all religions and walks of life demonstrate their love for our soldiers by sending them these delicious chocolate treats. Michael is a passionate Christian advocate for Israel and broadcasts weekly on American Web Radio.
A view of Hebron from inside the guard tower
I accompanied Michael (and a backpack full of chocolates) in a bulletproof bus into Hebron. One of the four holy cities in Judaism, Hebron is home to the Cave of the Patriarchs (Me’arat Ha Machpelah) a place that is sacred to both Jews and Muslims. Hebron is an extremely volatile city and throughout its history has been the site of a lot of tension between Jews and Arabs. Since the Hebron accords in 1997, the city was divided and today Jews have access to 3%.
A few facts
Over the last two months, Israel has been enduring a wave of terror that has involved stabbings, shootings and car-rammings. Many of us are opining and expressing outrage. We are trying to come to terms with the brutality and futility. Barely a day has gone by without breaking news of yet another stabbing, car ramming or shooting. So far 23 lives have been claimed and many more injured. Soldiers seem to be a preferred target for these terrorists, mostly aged 17-24 (although the youngest was just 13!)who have been incited by the hatred they are taught at home, in school and in the Mosques. Hebron has been home to several of these attacks with two civilians stabbed the day before our visit.
Cave of the Patriarchs
The city is dotted with soldiers on patrol and on guard who defend us all against terror. The least I could do was say thank you to all that these modern day Maccabees, who form part of Israel’s citizen army, do every day to ensure our safety and protection.
I was happy to rock some helmet hair…
To say that our soldiers are grateful for a simple bar of chocolate is an understatement. Their faces lit up with joy as we popped up like gophers in guard towers and distributed our choccie goodness to groups of happy soldiers. Many of them recognized Michael as the Hershey’s for Heroes man and have remarked that he has been with them all through their service, no matter where they have been stationed. He was welcomed like a long lost brother and happily dispensed hugs and handshakes with his sweet treats. We took great care in ensuring that all warriors got their calorific goodness and were well and truly thanked for their service to Israel.
It would be remiss of me to not mention my observations. On Thursday the city was eerily quiet, the kind of silence that could change at any given moment. Soldiers on patrol took great care to check out the identities of all who were entering the holy site and I must make mention of the fact that as an Israeli citizen who carries a teudat zehut (Israeli identity card) I have also been checked. It is NOT a discriminatory tactic, merely a security assurance. Soldiers were courteous, professional and polite when checking tourists as was on one occasion with a group of Malaysian tourists. Everybody is checked. At a time when women have wielded knives from their handbags and stabbed soldiers or youth have stuck their knives in the heads of those on guard, all precautions are taken.
Hershey’s for these heroes
Hebron is a potential tinderbox – one wrong move can change the city from quiet to riot. When I first told people I was embarking on my mission of calorie distribution, they all told me I was crazy. Well…..
I watched as “observers” from media or NGO’s filmed every move our soldiers made. What are they hoping to achieve? Many of them bait the soldiers, hoping for one wrong move or miss-step that they can bring to media outlets to feed the ifrenzy of “brutal war criminals”. Having spent a lot of time with these noble and moral young warriors, I defy anyone to call them derogatory names. These are the best of the best and even I stood a little bit taller (as much a 5foot tall woman could!) in their company.
Israeli soldiers are our collective sons and daughters. We worry about each of them, we feel any loss of life personally and we take great pride in ensuring that they are well taken care of. As we waited for the next bulletproof bus that would transport us safely back to Jerusalem in case of Molotov cocktails, rocks or shooting from hostile entities, I watched with a heart full of joy as soldiers lit the Chanukiah for the fifth night of Chanukah while some lay tefillin (phylacteries) with Chabad emissaries who distributed sufganiyot to those needing a delicious fried treat.
Chag Chanukah Sameach!
My gratitude to Hershey’s for Heroes and the IDF who let me tag along to help bring joy to our soldiers. I have returned safe and sound to Modiin and as I write this, news of another attempted terror attack breaks. A Palestinian tried to ram his car into IDF soldiers conducting security checks at Hilhul junction near Hebron.
Our soldiers continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinians who need it, allow truckloads of aid into Gaza and man their field hospital near the Syrian border. They spread their light in neighbourhood fraught with darkness. The Maccabees would be proud.
Disclaimer: Any political views expressed by Ganoe or Hershey’s for Heroes do not reflect those of the author.
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