Participants of the Peace of Mind Program
A speech given by one of POM's participants at the Friday night dinner - Beth Tzedec 2016:
My name is Eli.
First, I would like to apologize for reading from the paper but I have to if I want to do this right . . .
So a bit about us. We are all members of the same platoon of an infantry unit called OREV GIVATY. This is a unit that specializes in anti-tanks activity, that’s why we call ourselves “the tank hunters”. However, when there’s no tanks around, we function as a regular infantry unit.
We started as a collection of guys coming from different areas and different backgrounds. One of us, Oscar, was even a lone soldier coming from Latvia only to join the army. So one day, we all found ourselves together in a tent in the middle of the desert looking around and wondering how we got here and who all these people are. After a few months of training, this very diverse group of people became one organic platoon, one body. Each and every one of us knew that when the time comes, his friend will be there to save his life or put his own life instead.
When we finished our training period, we went to Gaza and there we stayed for the rest of our military service. We’ve been through a lot during these 2 or 3 years there. Gaza was a real war zone and most of the time, we had the upper hand. Believe me, we are full with stories of how heroes we were and how many terrorists we killed. However, one day this deep feeling of superiority that characterized our platoon was crushed by the death of three dear friends during a battle against terrorists in the northern area of the Gaza strip. Their names were Haim Hezki Gutman, a member of our platoon, Anatoly Karasik, our commander officer, and Alex Gladkov, a member of a parallel platoon.
To be honest, when we signed up for this program, most of us just thought about the free trip to Canada. We knew that we had gone through a lot but we are strong warriors, that nothing affects us. And more so, we all continued with our lives—most of us are married with children and have a career, so we’re fine.
And then a month ago, as part of the program, we had a two day workshop back in Israel, and that was the first time we really talked about these experiences. And only then we realized how important this program is for us and how all of these events we experienced 14 years ago are going with us and present in all aspects of our lives. The reason I’m telling you all this is to give you a slight feeling of how big your contribution is to our well-being and how much you are doing for us. This journey we’re in is possible only thanks to you.
How can I put to words our deep feeling of appreciation and gratitude? My English vocabulary is not rich enough to express it. We feel so fortunate to be a part of a nation that its people keep a strong connection to each other even though they are thousands of miles apart. Right at start, when we landed in the airport, Felicia and Tanya accepted us with a big welcome sign and a hug. It’s amazing that we were able to live in the houses of strangers and feel like home. The families opened their houses as well as their hearts for us, and did everything in order to make us feel comfortable. An example for such an effort was the fact that you were so worried that we won’t like your coffee (probably because Felicia told you that we need it in order to breath or something like that . . . ) that you bought coffee especially for us and always made sure it fit our standards. One of the guys here described the feeling of coming home to the hosting family as the feeling of a young boy coming back home from school. I couldn’t describe it better . . .
You always say how privileged you feel to be able to host us and be a part of this program. I want to tell you that we felt privileged to be warrior soldiers and serve the country and the week we spent here just reinforced our feeling of satisfaction and the belief that it was all worth it. We found here a loving and warm community, and I believe that I can speak in behalf of all of us when I say that now we have some new family members here in Canada.
This week was very meaningful for us. None of this would have happened without your support and your warm hospitality which enabled us to combine the serious heavy talks during the day with fun and relaxation during the evenings. This combination was crucial for the success of this program.
I want to thank all of the people that were involved in the arrangements of this week, especially Felicia and the POM committee of Beth Tzedec who worked very hard before and during this week, and always with a big smile on their faces. I want to thank again the families, the amazing families! And a big thank you I want to say to our two mentors, Yuval and Udi, who always knew how make all this work and to navigate our way throughout this journey.
Before I finish I just want to mention again the people that are not with us today and say that they will always be with us wherever we go.
Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.
Two months before the flight I got a stressful phone call from one of my team members who said
"Raz, I'm really sorry but the flight falls a week before the wedding and we are landing three days
before the wedding."
I did not know how to get the message. On the one hand, I knew I could not fly and leave my future
wife on her own a week before the wedding and on the other hand, I felt deep down inside that I
had to go for our marriage, for our future.
Fortunately inner feelings of admiration combined full support from my wife finally led me to the
This journey was different, not what we trained as fighters so far, for me the word "journey"
integrated directly to the question "How many miles?", So accustomed us to think and act with your
legs and not with the heart.
Host Family Testimonials
Hosting the IDF guys participating in Peace of Mind in Toronto was a match made in heaven!
Hosting the IDF guys participating in Peace of Mind in Toronto was certainly a win/win opportunity. A team of approximately 18 30-somethings, part of an elite special operations combat unit were invited to participate in a unique journey‒an intensive week of therapy and bonding as a cohesive unit amidst their otherwise hectic civilian lives. They were each committed to this unique retreat-style therapeutic process and were hosted in pairs in homes in our local Jewish community.
Recently my husband and I entered a new stage of family life. Our three young adult kids are off at college and we are officially transitioning to empty-nesters. We are sailing into mid-life waters as yet unknown to us.
And here I was back in my mom-mode comfort-zone carpooling and preparing snacks once again.
Obviously a match made in heaven! The 30-something Israelis needed surrogate nurturing parents for the week and we welcomed surrogate adult kids to somehow need us. Between us (50s), our children (20s) our parents (80s) and our guests (30s) their children (under 10) and their parents (60s and 70s) we have all the generations covered. This range in ages and stages allowed for so much meaningful discussion. Not to mention many heated topics such as: Israeli economics / politics, Canadian economics / politics, life in the IDF, Jewish life in the Diaspora and always a favourite‒our travel bucket list.
The guys had a busy schedule in Toronto including breakfasts and dinners with us, all day therapy sessions with professional Israeli therapists and evening recreational activities including shopping, touring and just hanging out as a unit.
The two guys we hosted were mature and talkative. We learned about their civilian lives (professional family men) and their IDF portfolios (one an officer and the other a medic). The POM sessions facilitated opportunities for the guys to share residual personal challenges brought upon by their difficult combat experiences. Our job was simple – provide them with a safe haven and a friendly embrace.
Shabbat was spent together. We enjoyed a delicious communal Shabbat dinner at the synagogue. On Saturday we attended traditional Shabbat services including a prayer for the State of Israel and a Hebrew Prayer for members of the Israel Defense Force–recited in their honour. Amen.
Additionally, some candid remarks about the experience of the week abroad were shared by one of the Israeli participants. (Once upon a time, a sniper in the unit, now a third year medical resident, a husband and a father.) In his heartfelt words, “we came to unravel old knots between us and to heal deep wounds within us. We left behind the comfort of our families and our homes and we have been warmly welcomed into your families and your homes. We are grateful to the community for this opportunity, a gift we will forever cherish.”
There is no question that the POM program is a treasured experience for all those involved. In a short time, the guests and the hosts are able to develop a meaningful connection based on mutual respect and trust. We all know; Israel needs the Diaspora and we need Israel. As Jews in Canada we are blessed with the opportunity to visit Israel as tourists and we recognize the immense price Israelis (civilians and IDF) pay to provide freedom and security to Jews worldwide to maintain Israel as our beloved homeland.
This experience taught me so much about the true meaning of Klal Yisrael – Jewish peoplehood. Indeed, collectively we are greater than our differences. I saw firsthand the deep brotherly love shared and expressed between the guys (a diverse group of Israeli men) within their unit. We all have a lot to learn from the potential for love that transcends these inevitable societal barriers: religious / political affiliation, demographic variables such as socioeconomic and education and more.
The week flew by. We ate and drank together, laughed together, engaged in thought-provoking dialogue and ultimately we developed a wonderful one-week mutual surrogacy. On the morning of our farewell I discovered this handwritten note placed on my kitchen table:
A house is where you take off your shoes; a home is where someone asks you “how was your
A house is where you eat; a home is where someone cares if you are hungry.
A house is where you take a shower; a home is where someone makes sure a clean towel is waiting for you.
A house is where your bed is; a home is where someone looks in your eyes in the morning and sees if you slept well.
The Peace of Mind sessions were intense and all we really needed at the end of the day was a warm place to rest our heads. A home.
We felt loved and cared for, and proud to be Israeli soldiers. We hope we were able to give something back, in return.
Thank you for making your house our home. Our house in Israel is your home.
With a smile and a tear, I folded the heartwarming letter, knowing we had contributed one small deed to the continuity of Klal Yisrael.
Hopefully, I will keep in touch with my surrogate adult Israeli kids on social media and perhaps visit in person one day.
Of course I can’t help but wonder: when is the next POM IDF unit arriving in Toronto?!
Project Give Back - Peace of Mind
Kol Hakavod to Maytal and Hannah, two 6 year olds, who raised $36.00 for our Israeli heroes! Thank you, girls, for your dedication to Peace of Mind and for being such wonderful role models for your classmates. You truly understand the meaning of chesed and tikkun olam!