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David Matlow: It's Easier to be in Israel Than to Watch it From Afar

David Matlow, July 31, 2014

“The book on how to fight terror is being written here,” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Wednesday evening at the Canada-Israel Solidarity Rally held at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem.


We are indeed the people of the book, but the cost of this book is enormous as it is paid in the currency of death and sacrifice.


Earlier in the day I accompanied a Birthright Israel group from Canada on its visit to the military cemetery at Mount Herzl. The tour ended at the graves of nine soldiers from Jerusalem who died in the current war with Hamas. The site of these fresh mounds of dirt was too much for many in the group to bear, as some wept inconsolably.


We all understood that these boys died for us.


Earlier in the tour, Eyal, our guide, asked whether when we see something that needs doing do we do it, or do we leave it for someone else to do? Surrounded by all of the graves of the soldiers who died creating and defending the State of Israel, it is clear how each of these brave soldiers would have answered the question. They did it, and we all are the beneficiaries of their sacrifice.


I left Mount Herzl wondering what a 53-year-old lawyer from Toronto could do to help.


That question was partially answered at the Rally that was organized by Jerry Grafstein, with the participation of the Jewish National Fund and other Toronto organizations including UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and its advocacy partner, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.


Mayor Barkat said that in Israel’s fight against terror, everyone should stick to our day to day activities as best as possible. We should not cancel anything and, moreover, we should “show the terrorists that we are stubborn old mules”. He asked that we tell people how safe we feel in Jerusalem.


I feel totally safe here. There are people in restaurants, out shopping, going about their business. I have not heard one siren since I arrived on Sunday. Naturally, tourism is down but people are still coming to visit. Just being here makes one feel as if you are doing your part. I assure you it is more comforting to be here, than to watch it from afar.


Although everyone here realizes that the brunt of the burden is falling on the shoulders of Israel’s brave soldiers, Israelis are unified in trying to help any way they can. In the afternoon, on the playground of a Jerusalem school, a “pop-up’ fair emerged to sell products and produce from the southern communities. Since nobody is travelling to that particular region of Israel to buy anything these days, the goods were shipped north. The fair was packed with people who were buying things they obviously did not need, in order to help.


Food is being prepared en masse in private kitchens and hastily assembled outdoor canteens to send to the soldiers at the front or in Gaza, and to the wounded soldiers in the various hospitals. Money is flowing in to move citizens in the danger zone to safer areas. Volunteers are heading south to assist in day care centres and facilities for the elderly.


The sense of unity is palpable. You can’t but feel it. This is a country of stubborn old mules, writing a book that nobody wishes we had to write.


David Matlow is co-chairing the 2015 UJA Campaign with Andrea Cohen, and is currently in Israel with his wife Leanne, and two of his daughters, Naomi and Yael.

This article is reprinted with the permission of Shalom Life where it first appeared.

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