Over the past couple of years, as our nest emptied, David and I have opened our home to students from Brazil, Colombia, Spain and Japan for anywhere from two to six months at a time. We keep in touch with one of them periodically and have never heard again from others but I must tell you that we have never forged a connection- as quickly or as deeply – as we did with Gil and Assaf, the two Israeli combat veterans we had the honour and privilege of hosting last week, as part of the Peace of Mind program.
As you may know, the veterans engaged in intense therapy sessions from the moment they arrived at Beth Torah. Throughout the week they dealt with the tragic and painful loss of three members of their unit, as well as other trauma they experienced during their years of service. The program is designed so that the therapy is balanced with sightseeing as well as time with the host families, and their community.
It was inspiring to witness the deep bond shared by these men- they are more than friends and even family. Their desire to spend time together at every opportunity- even though they had spent the day as a group- and they see each other regularly in Israel was remarkable. Their profound affection, respect and admiration for one another was so very moving and made us feel incredibly proud- even though we had nothing to do with it.
What we were able to do was provide a soft landing, and a warm environment for the soldiers to return to at the end of each day. Beth Torah hosted a beautiful Shabbat dinner, where members of the community were able to meet these wonderful men and express gratitude for their service. On Shabbat the soldiers and their hosts were honoured with an Aliyah. It was clear they felt at home, and had been warmly embraced by the Beth Torah Community. We had a terrific goodbye party on Saturday night and I have to say I have never felt more comfortable leaving my 21 year old daughter in a bar than with her 18 new “big brothers”.
The willingness to undertake this type of powerful and life-altering initiative is one of many reasons that I’m proud to be part of, to serve and now to lead our vibrant and caring community.