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Service Above and Beyond…
The following are translations of letters written by Sherut Leumi (National Service) girls who serve in the ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran Rehabilitation Village. The girls, all of whom chose to stay on and help out while the village was under fire, were kind enough to share their feelings and personal accounts of their experiences. These letters were written to Masada Sekely, Director of ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran.
A lot of thoughts went through my mind during the war and while the village was under attack, and I wanted to share them with you. Since I live in the center of the country, I had never been in a situation like this where we were literally under attack, and this was the first time I understood the feeling of helplessness that comes along with it. I had never experienced a situation where the very foundations of my life were so shaken up. And I certainly never lived with so much uncertainty, not knowing what would be, as I did that week.
But what frustrated me most was knowing that when the code red sirens sounded a warning, there was no way I could help all of ‘my’ residents get to safety in the time allotted. I felt their helplessness and the impact of their inability to run – so much that I felt that it was my own inability.
I take my responsibilities and duties as a Sherut Leumi girl very seriously. I felt that I had to overcome my own emotions and be there 200% to help my residents in any way I could – physically and emotionally – through singing, acting out stories or making parties in the sealed rooms. The smiles on their faces made it all worthwhile, and suddenly all the stress seemed insignificant until it faded away to nothingness.
For all of us, and for me personally, this was unquestionably a very difficult period of time. I am grateful that the staff here includes an amazing team of psycho-social professionals. We always knew we could turn to them to talk at any time, and they helped keep us as calm as possible (thank you all!)
I had lots of discussions with the other Sherut Leumi girls, and we kept coming up with the same questions and dilemmas. Should we run to the sealed rooms with the first resident that we see, and stay there with them – or should we go back out and try to get another resident to safety – risking our own lives in the process… Should we try to explain to the higher functioning residents what the sirens mean?
Personally, my conscience did not allow me to leave my residents and go seek shelter on my own. There were a few instances where I was outside with residents when the boom sounded. I wasn’t afraid for myself, but for my resident – who I care about so very much. You can call that bravery or total dedication, or you might call it foolishness for me not to have taken care of myself when real danger was at hand. I don’t mind being called a fool for the rest of my life – just as long as I know that I did not leave my residents during those critical moments when they needed me the most.
Last Shabbat we had a weekend for volunteers in the village, and we all went into it completely exhausted – both mentally and physically, and completely depleted, lacking any energy. But despite everything, the Shabbat surpassed all expectations! The joyous atmosphere created a sense of freedom – as if there never had been a war. I have never enjoyed myself as much as I did that weekend.
Despite the difficult situation, the smile never left my face. To know that I did something good for someone else made my day, and to understand that even my seemingly insignificant actions had such a huge impact gave me such a wonderful feeling and the strength to carry on during the crazy, abnormal period of time.
Masada, thank you so much for every second of support and help, for listening and for offering a shoulder to lean on and a hugs whenever it was needed.
With much appreciation and love,
Many people have asked me why I decided to stay in the village during the war – and the only answer I have is that it was simple and natural to stay. When you are at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, you feel connected in such a strong and wonderful way that can’t even be explained, and when a situation like this occurs – there’s no way you can leave.
The war started on Wednesday, and I went home on Friday afternoon after an incredibly intensive day helping out at the village. Usually I wait breathlessly for the weekends at home with my family, but this Shabbat all I could think about was getting back to the village. Knowing that they needed me so much and that my residents were in distress while I was comfortably resting at home made it impossible for me to enjoy the time away, and I came back to the village as soon as I could.
The last week was incredibly intense and exhausting and not at all easy – physically, working around the clock was hard, and emotionally, I felt more than once that I was at the breaking point. But somehow, it was also one of the most meaningful and even exhilarating weeks of my life. It was a time in which you lived completely for others, where the whole week was spent just giving and giving… I thought that my connection to the village and to the residents was strong, but after this week, I can tell you that is doubly so. I reconnected– with the residents and with the amazing staff here, and it gave me a new, more mature and deeper perspective on life.
Thank you for everything!
The truth is that before today, whenever I heard on the news that there were places in the south under bombardment for the past 7 or 8 years, I felt uncomfortable. I felt that this had nothing to do with us. But I didn’t do anything with that feeling, because I didn’t really think about it on a daily basis. It is only when I heard about an incident then I felt bad, because it seemed so distant and far from those of us in the north who weren’t affected by it.
So I am happy that I now had the chance to feel what it is like, to experience it and be part of it. I now understand that this is what happens in the world, and that it is ok if people in other areas go on with their daily lives even while some of us sit in sealed rooms.
It was definitely an experience I’ll never forget, as I spent the week being in the village and sleeping there and getting to know everyone better.
Hi. My name is Meirav and I am a Sherut Leumi girl at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran.
I wanted to tell you a little about what it was like to be doing your sherut leumi in the south during the war.
The week was not easy. It was full of tensions and fear. I felt and experienced and thought things I never had before. But I tried to keep things normal and stick to routine even while I was in a situation that was as far from normal as could be.
Life in the shadow of sirens and rockets is full of frustration and not knowing what will be and that really confuses your sense of security.
It is scary to have your life be threatened and still feel responsible for the fate of your loved ones…
I tried to be strong for myself and for those around me (and especially for my wards) and to give off an air of calm as much as possible.
It was very important – even more than usual! – that I stay on the job, despite all difficulties!!
I felt that I was necessary and so needed by my wards, more than ever, and this is what impelled me to come and give everything I had and to overcome the fear. I wanted to help keep the air of normalcy as much as possible for my chanichot, and to make the explosions into an adventure!
I wanted to be there for them, to hug them, to kiss them, or just to hold their hands and offer encouragement. I used calm words to give them a sense of security – and to get through this period together! I realized more than ever how much I love them and I felt like they were my own children who needed me to look after them. The wave of mixed emotions swept over me and encouraged me to stay and be there for them!
I was there to for a goal, and that strengthened me very much and helped me during the hardest moments. I thank my awesome friends who helped me so much personally and who gave me the courage and energy to go on!!!!
On the Wednesday when the war started, (which was also our parents’ day), I traveled home to help my parents prepare for my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, which was to be that Shabbat.
When I arrived home in the afternoon, and I heard about what was beginning to happen in the Negev, I felt very uneasy. It was a terrible feeling to be so far away from ALEH Negev and the residents, to feel safe and protected while they are caught in danger and confusion. I wanted so much to go back that very evening, even if just to be there and to experience it together with them.
I was finally able to return on Sunday morning, and it was clear to me that I would be staying for as long as the situation continued, even if it took a long time. Not one of us had the shadow of a doubt whether to stay in the village or not…
The truth is that my own breaking point came very quickly. I fainted on Monday morning and felt very weak. Of course everyone around embraced me with loads of warmth. I think that this fainting spell came from the overload and exhaustion that built up over the past weeks, but also from emotional weakness.
This crazy reality – where people in their own country, in their own homes, inside place that have been built to provide safety and protection – must run and hide, creates a sense of personal and national humiliation, and that is completely debilitating. But in any case I stayed in the village.
Despite the fact that everyone tried to convince me to go home, I was just not able to leave the village. It is not that they couldn’t have managed without me. The real reason I couldn’t leave was the feeling that I had to be there, on call, specifically when things got tougher.
It is clear to me that it was the absolutely right thing to do. We really tried our best to be a positive influence on the tense atmosphere in the village. We tried to distract residents from the sirens and alarms while we were in the sheltered rooms. We tried very hard to make everyone happy, to remove the feeling of helplessness, emptiness, confusion and stress.
I feel like this made us stronger as a group, invigorated us on an individual level, and also ultimately helped the whole village.
And at the end of the matter it was actually even fun! We enjoyed the special togetherness that we forged as a group, we savored the small indulgences and the break in routine…
So a big, big thanks for the support and the hugs.
We really appreciate all of you so much – you are amazing people!
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