I had an exciting career of almost 40 years in media. I spent the last 20 years of my career as part of The Media Edge and then as the President of Syndicated Network Television Association. What most people did not know is that I spent a decade of my career commuting from my home in Israel to the United States.
In the era prior to COVID-19, I worked from an office in my home, as many of you do now. We used technology to share files and do video calls with staff. I had full access to American television via the now defunct Slingbox technology. In addition, I had U.S. phone numbers that connected to my landline as well as to my mobile.
I was asked, several times, to tell my story as a commuter. I declined to tell the story at that point because I wanted people to focus on the insights that I was presenting, not that I spent 20+ hours roundtrip on an airplane to fly nonstop to New York or Los Angeles.
My wife and I live in a city in central Israel, halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We live in a private house, and we are fortunate that our children also decided on their own and at their own pace to move to Israel. Our immediate family now totals 25 people in Israel.
By now, most of you know the story of the invasion of Israel by Hamas. I will not recount it here nor will I get into a discussion of what is right or wrong with any of the participants, as this is too fluid a situation to be timely. I am sure that no one really cares about my opinion, and I don't care to spend my time in a debate.
October 7 was supposed to be a joyous day as Jews in Israel celebrated the holiday of Simchat Torah. As I walked to synagogue with my son and son-in-law at 6:30ish in the morning, we heard the distant sound of artillery fire, a rare, distinctive sound that we have only heard during previous serious attacks. We understood that there had to be a serious yet not immediately dangerous situation for where we were located.
An hour later, the synagogue service was interrupted by an air-raid siren and we proceeded rather calmly to the synagogue's safe room. After the recommended 10-minute period, we left the synagogue, went back to my son's home and experienced 6 more air raids over the next 5 hours.
We were now aware of the invasion along the Gaza border and saw many people drive away in uniform, further indicating the seriousness of the situation. Within 48 hours, Israel's active military more than tripled in size.
From an Israeli media perspective, we have access to four local channels that carry news, access to many additional international channels (including CNN, Fox News, BBC, Sky News and France 24) as well as web channels and social media.
Everybody wants to know what is happening, but unless it comes from a reputable source (e.g., a public leader in a position to know or their direct spokesperson), we understand that much of the “air-filler” comes from people who are speculating or opining.
The civilian population, for the most part, are not cowering in their homes. I think it would be fair to depict that we are cognizant of the threat, have taken the actions necessary to keep ourselves safe such as understanding the location and proximity to safe rooms (rooms specifically constructed to be used during attacks) when out of the house, adequately provisioning the safe room in our homes, and staying in touch with family and friends in Israel and abroad.
Please note that there is professional counseling available for those who desire it. There are even PSAs that tell civilians how to help someone who is having a panic attack.
Even with that knowledge, there can be times when a safe room is not available. Rocket attacks come without warning and a 10-minute errand that coincides with an attack leads to unwanted excitement. Israelis have been instructed to leave their vehicles, move away from the vehicle, and lay flat on the ground with their hands covering their head. This happened to me and my daughter. We were unhurt as we saw an Iron Dome take out the rocket in the distance.
The civilian population moved into action with a spirit of extreme volunteerism. There were many areas that needed to be addressed, including immediate assistance for the people living along the Gaza border, supplementing logistics for the reserves, supporting families whose loved ones were called into service, and providing additional support for families who needed help before the war.
Shouldn’t the government be responsible for this, people ask. The easy and idealistic answer is yes, but that answer would be wrong. When you’re under a barbaric attack, tripling the size of the military and taking 360,000 people out of the workplace in 48 hours, someone needs to step in. That is what the civilians who remain at home are doing.
My city, Beit Shemesh, has absorbed thousands of displaced people from the Gaza Border region. No one knows the real number as some of them have just moved in with relatives. We do know that thousands of incremental meals are being provided by one charity (and there are others) that feeds the needy. Where is this food coming from? The answer is from volunteers who donate, cook the food, and place it into containers for easy distribution.
If a displaced family wanted to leave the Gaza border area and had no transportation available, they could call this same charity, which dispatched brave drivers who entered the war region to extract them.
And what to do if you are called to duty and the logistics have not caught up with the new soldiers at the front? You call home and your neighbors cook and provide interim supplies for the entire battalion. Again, the volunteers are paying for the food, cooking, and delivering it to a central location for delivery to the front. Since the war began, a group of 100 volunteers has provided 7000 healthy meals for soldiers.
They are not alone in meeting the need. A local coffee shop has closed its doors to customers -- allowing volunteers, who spend 10 hours a day there, to prepare 10,000 sandwiches daily for soldiers. Other companies have joined the effort. A major airline caterer provides fruits and vegetables. And other people drop by with cases of granola bars.
At the beginning of the war, reserve soldiers needed bedding, linens, and other supplies. Volunteers met this need by driving to the Gazan border while the conflict was just beginning. They encountered one problem delivering the donated supplies: there were so many volunteers delivering supplies that it took an additional hour just to drive the last mile to the base.
Individual families had fathers and/or mothers who were called up. Community volunteers took on the responsibility of cooking, providing daycare, supplemental programming for children during the day and babysitters at night to help fill the void.
Every city has a less fortunate population who rely upon school-lunch programs as a necessary part of their meal program. When schools are closed as they were at the beginning of war, these families were without that source of food. Social workers looked through cities for spaces that a large enough for the children to play in and simultaneously, had a safe room large enough for all the children to enter in the event of a rocket attack.
There are so many additional volunteer stories that could be told. One volunteer is opening a school in an area that is conflict-free for 40 children children from the Gaza Border. One post high-school gap-year Yeshiva raised over $300,000 in 3 days to equip a battalion with needed safety equipment.
One elderly woman was found scouring the streets looking for available apartments for displaced families while simultaneously collecting games and toys for the children to play with. One group of teen-aged girls have taken it upon themselves to bake cookies and cakes for some of the officers running the war at the Kirya (Israel’s Pentagon).
Do I regret moving to Israel; not once in the 18 years that we’ve been here. Is Israel perfect; of course not. We have a vibrant dialogue that crosses political affiliation, religious observance, personal life preference as well as ethnic and cultural background. Can we better; yes, we can. When you take a step back, while the culture is different, is what I’m describing so different from that of America?
In war, civilians don’t ask the country what it can do for us; the country knows that it needs to protect its citizens. The civilians know that we are responsible for everybody. In volunteering and accomplishing the good deeds that are needed, the volunteers bring unity and harmony to Israel’s democracy. And that is why, with the sounds of war in my ears every day for the last month, I’m here to stay.