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Winnipeg Solidarity Mission Participants with Jean Berman at Soroka Hospital

Chief Evans, Jim Mc Fadden, Rev John Howson , Rev Don James and Zev Faintuch visiting a wounded soldier at Tel Hashomer Hospital

Reverend John Howson blessing Jean Berman at Soroka Hospital

Winnipeg Solidarity Participants heading to President's Rivlin's Residence in Jerusalem


Mission participants with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai


It is a “humbling experience to visit parents whose wounded sons are in comas fighting for their lives

By Rhonda Spivak, September 20, 2014









Michel Aziza, who co-chaired  with Mel Lazareck the recent Jewish Federation of Winnipeg's Solidarity Mission to Israel  between August 20 – 26, 2014 said that everywhere the group went, Israelis were "touched and appreciative" that  "we had come all of this way to show our support" during Israel's most recent conflict with Hamas.







During the mission, which was co-ordinated by the Federation’s Shelley Faintuch, the group of 18 people visited wounded IDF soldiers and civilians at both Tel- Hashomer hopital and Be'er Sheva's Sokora hospital.






“It was one of most difficult experiences" and "so humbling," Aziza said. In particular he remembers vividly the visit to a father of a 29 year old soldier who was in a coma, and the mother of a 23 year old soldier who was also in a coma.






"Both told us their stories and both were praying for their sons to come out of the coma," Aziza noted. 







One father made a point of telling the group, "My son didn't serve in the army to attack Palestinians in Gaza. He served to defend Israel and Israelis."





Albert Aziza, Michel's older brother from Toronto, who was also part of the mission, spoke of how unified the country was during this time. "By the time we came to visit the wounded, there had been hundreds of people who had already visited the hospital. Israelis had come with food and gifts. There was an outpouring of support. At Soroka hospital the entire floor had been decorated with pictures made by kids for the wounded."






Michel Aziza pointed out that during the mission he became aware of how Israelis in general "were very concerned about the perception people in the world had of Israel, her army and her citizens."  






As Aziza recalls, "One 23 year old commander at Soroka Hospital came to speak to us about the reality on the ground in Gaza. He told us about one instance when a young Palestinian boy, between 8-10 years old came out of a house waving a white flag. The commander's unit went into the house to see what they could do to help this boy out. The house was unfortunately booby trapped and the boy was killed and so was one of the soldiers."






At Soroka hospital, the mission met a father who was injured saving kindergarten kids from an incoming rocket from Gaza. Jean Berman, 35, and his wife Leora had brought their three-year-old son to the kindergarten for his birthday celebration that morning, when a siren sounded, warning of an incoming projectile from Gaza. They had only 15 seconds to run for cover. With many children still gathered outside the kindergarten, Berman and the kindergarten teacher dashed to herd them inside the building reinforced against rocket attacks. As the last of the kids made it into the building, the rocket struck, and although Berman was inside, shrapnel blasted through a window, injuring him in the arm and chest.







According to Aziza, Berman, along with other Israelis they met throughout the mission, were especially touched by the fact that there were non-Jews on the mission who had come all the way from Canada to express their solidarity with the people of Israel. Three representatives from Bridges For Peace had joined the group as well as Chief Ron Evans from Norway House Cree Nation.







Ariel Karabelnicoff, executive director of the Winnipeg Chapter of the Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University explained that after the “extremely emotionally charged visit to Soroka University Hospital,” the group went across the street to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.







“Prof. Rivka Carmi, President of Ben-Gurion University received us and was so appreciative of our visit in such difficult circumstances, especially in the Negev. Prof. Carmi briefed the group about the fluid situation and how the University and its students were impacted. When the war started, it was during spring exams, and 1500 students received Tzav 8 (emergency draft notices to fight in Gaza). Spring exams were immediately cancelled, hundreds of BGU students volunteered in the community by opening day camps for children, and assisting elders.








Carmi explained that, “Students were not able to work this summer to earn money to pay for tuitions and books, so we will help them with scholarships.”







According to Karabelnicoff, on August 24th after the University was closed for 50 days, Prof. Carmi made a dramatic announcement saying that “We cannot be closed any longer. We are an institution, we have to keep going, and we are resuming activities on August 26th. We have shelters, and our students and staff will go to shelters when necessary.” There was complete silence in the boardroom.







Karabelnicoff said, “I was so proud of her determination and  fortitude. She is a remarkable leader. Ben-Gurion University created a $1 million dollar Scholarship Fund to help students pay for tuitions.”







Sharon Zalik, executive director of the Winnipeg Chapter of Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University said that it was “an honour and a privilege” to participate in the Solidarity Mission to Israel.






“It was an eye opening and emotional experience that will resonate with me forever, especially since it involved not only listening to well informed speakers, but visiting wounded soldiers in h

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.