We were very excited to have again the opportunity to host two Israeli soldiers as part of the Peace of Mind Program. Having had the opportunity to host last October, we kind of knew what to expect and were looking forward to it.
The program was extremely well run! This time schedule allowed the soldiers to benefit most likely just as much from their therapy while spending a bit more time (never enough) with their host families and getting to visit Toronto. Our soldiers, Avi and Eliran, had a fabulous time with the various activities planned for them.
As host families, we had the opportunity to be with our soldiers at every breakfast, to provide the soldiers with accommodations, to have a bowling night with them, to spend Shabbat with them and one “dinner” during the week. Everything else was fully taken care of by the program. We certainly enjoyed every minute spent with our soldiers and despite our very busy schedule we would have loved to have more time scheduled with them!
The soldiers kept on telling us how they never realized they had such a support and love abroad. To them it was simply normal to serve in the army and they never expected such a warm reception from their fellow Jews abroad. They also kept on saying how much this trip and the human aspects of this trip meant to them!
Interestingly, by spending more time with us, the soldiers had an opportunity to open up more directly to us, showing us pictures and talking to us on a “one to one” basis about their war and military experience.
As for our family, it was an unbelievable enriching experience for all of us to host the soldiers. Again, we prepared our kids (ages 7 to 17), explaining to them the sacrifices that those soldiers, but also their families, have made to protect Israel and the Jewish people. While they have learnt a lot from Hebrew Day School, the awareness and enrichment provided by this personal contact with the soldiers was invaluable. In one week they have learnt to appreciate what Tsahal does more than in many years of Hebrew School! It was specially invaluable for my oldest son who had “fun” doing Gadna and got to see the more serious side of the army. Most touching was Eliran’s comment, who travelled the world and said that saying that despite all the problems in Israel, there is no other place in the world he would like to live!
In our case, one added bonus was the planned visit to Associated Hebrew School. Our two children still in that school were extremely proud to tour the school with the whole group and introduce “their” soldiers to their peers.
As parents, we also came to realize that ultimately those young soldiers could have been our children, and getting to know them personally certainly increased our sensitivity and our commitment to Israel and to our Jewish values.
We all developed a strong relationship with the soldiers and at the end they simply felt like family. When we go to Israel this summer, seeing them and meeting their family, as well as the two soldiers we had last year will definitely be one of our top priority.
At the end of it all, while we believe that Peace of Mind certainly achieved their objective of helping the soldiers overcome some trauma issues generated by their war experience. We also believe that the host families may have benefitted just as much as the soldiers by strengthening their feelings and relationship towards Am Israel. We would certainly love to host again soldiers in our house and would like to get more involved with the Program whether as volunteer or as donors.
As do better suggestions, we feel the soldiers should get the opportunity to spend more time with the family and maybe the trip could be a bit longer so that maybe there could be a whole Sunday activity like a pique-nique including all the families and all the soldiers.
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