Israeli Proteckzia (Using your Connections)

I was sitting at a wedding last night and realized that, as luck would have it, the table was filled with a microcosm of Israel – at least as far as the army was concerned. Everyone there has some connection, much indeed, like almost all of Israel. My friend immediately to my right has two sons in the army, both in combat units. One is Elie’s age, one a few years older.

To her right was another friend. Her oldest son served in the air force, her second son will go into the army in the year or so, as will my second son. Two other couples sat at the table, both major leaders in an organization known as Yashar LeChayal (Straight to the Soldier: I asked how their organization was doing and heard wonderful things about the supplies and donations they make, including protective vests, personal supplies, and even flashlights for the soldiers’ guns.

It reminded me of a story Elie had told me and I found myself telling them. Elie was on the checkpoint when an Arab car approached quickly and didn’t stop, despite being signaled by the soldiers. The soldiers have clear instructions and have been trained. As the commander, it’s Elie’s decision to shoot. One soldier called out; another aimed at the tires of the car.

And my son drew his weapon, aimed it at the Arabs in the car, turned on his flashlight directed at the car’s occupants and cocked his gun. Yes, a bullet went into the chamber ready to shoot, but more importantly, it made a loud and clear sound. Combining the light and the sound, the car screeched to a stop and obeyed the soldiers as they confirmed it posed no threat. Elie felt strongly that it was the sound, and even more so, the strong light from his gun, that made his intention clear. Stop the car now, or I will shoot. What it does to me to know that he would have had to pull the trigger is more than I can write about now, so back to the conversation at the wedding last night.

“Our flashlights are better,” one of the men told me and explained why. The type of light, the construction, the strength. He had me convinced.We talked about Elie’s unit and that many of the soldiers didn’t have flashlights – Elie only received his after he became a commander. He’s used it often out in the desert, on patrol at night. I was talking even before I realized myself what I was about to do.

I’m often a bit shy or hesitant when asking for things. I’d rather help than be helped, rather solve something on my own than ask. If I fail, I won’t be proud, but first, I have to be true to myself and just try. Apparently, that was lost last night.

“Would you give me a flashlight for Elie?” I blurted out.

As simple as that and without hesitation, both immediately agreed. I tried to offer them a graceful out. What nerve, I thought to myself, to have pushed them like this at a social event. “We help a lot of people,” Meir explained, “but we see to our own too.” As simple as that.

“Call me tomorrow morning,” Leon said. Could I get it tomorrow? My mind was racing – Elie’s ten minutes away from me; I can get it to him easily. No problem, Leon told me. He even has one in his house.

Elie forgot his watch, wants a bigger fan if possible, and needed another item as well. I agreed I would bring him those items later today, and now I have this flashlight as well.

Elie called me while I was in the store asking what time I was going to come. He wanted to know if I was willing to bring them all pizza. I don’t yet know how many soldiers are included in a “them” but I basically don’t care.

“How many pizzas should I bring?” I asked Elie. “Three, four, seven? Just tell me.” There was silence on the phone. I don’t think Elie really considered that I’d be willing to bring that many. In the end, he’s happy if I can bring one pizza. I also have a bag of snacks, I told Elie.

“The more the better,” he said lightly. I’ve never been good at keeping presents secret. First I hint there is something; then I tell them what it is. I didn’t even attempt to keep this one. I told Elie about the flashlight, describing it to him as Meir had described it to me, and Elie was amazed.

“Those are the best ones,” he told me.

“Yes, that’s what Meir said.”

“Wow – tell them thanks.”

I will Elie; I absolutely will.

So, as it turns out – because of a bit of nerve, a bit of “proteckzia,” and a lot of generosity from a special organization, tonight, along with the personal items and the pizza, I’ll also bring a special gift – straight to the soldier, yashar leChayal – delivered with love by his mother.

What an amazing organization to have thought of a concept so pure. All donations – every cent or shekel – goes directly to the soldiers. This is Israel – Yashar LeChayal! Straight to Elie, his friends, his fellow soldiers on the front line, on bases throughout Israel, on patrol.

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