Visiting the hostage square in Tel Aviv is an intense experience. Some people arrive alone to simply wander through the space, stopping occasionally to study one of the posters of the missing or to contemplate the soulful artistic installations. Others arrive in groups prepared with placards of their loved ones which they carry around, waiting to engage with the crowd and tell their stories. Their focus is to ensure that each individual is not forgotten amidst the sea of chaos. As a visitor, you are overwhelmed by a feeling of sadness coupled with a deep sense of determination.
The Ethiopian women from CJP’s Boston-Haifa Connection programs had a different idea in mind. When asked how their community was coping with the war and if they had any unmet needs, they requested that the Boston-Haifa Connection organize a visit for a group of them to the hostage square. I was curious to meet them and see how such a visit would serve to help their community, so when I got the invitation to join the group, I happily agreed.
After meeting the bus near the office in Haifa, each attendee was gifted a T-shirt with the CJP Boston-Haifa Connection logo, a yellow ribbon and a dog tag that was engraved with the words, “Bring Them Home Now!” We proceeded to two more pickup locations, adding groups of people along the way. Though I arrived empty-handed, they most certainly did not. The women loaded the bus with huge pots of home-cooked Ethiopian dishes, piles of injera (their unique flatbread), tables, disposable dishes, pots of fresh-brewed coffee, etc. They did not intend to just show up and disappear into the crowd.
I still wondered, how was this going to help the Ethiopian community deal with the war?
Soon, I began to see that their main desire was to bring joy and warmth to the families of the hostages. To feed them a warm, delicious and hearty meal. To serve them coffee and then to be there as support for anyone who needed to chat, ask questions or speak about their own trauma. Giving back to the community and supporting their fellow Israelis is what gave these Ethiopian women comfort and satisfaction. This evening was their way of coping with the daily trauma of the war.
Thanks to these women and CJP’s Boston-Haifa Connection, I was lucky to arrive home that night with my own spirit restored.
Sharon Mizrahi is a new volunteer with CJP’s Boston-Haifa Connection Shared Society Committee.