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Serving in Sar-El in Israel: elation and heartbreak

ConnsBy SIDNEY CONN (Birmingham Alabama)
“…..and exactly what were you doing there at 5:30 in the morning? Don’t you know that a person walking up to a guard house in the dark could be in a seriously dangerous situation?”

This angry rebuke came from one of the three madrichot on our IDF base, after I asked why there was no one in the guard house at the Western gate at 5:30 in the morning.
I assured her that I was in my full Sar-El-issued uniform with the identifying blue ribbons on the epaulettes and that I was very careful to make a lot of noise as I approached.
Startling a soldier who is holding an M-16 is a very bad idea, at any time!
So, exactly what was I doing at a guard house on an IDF base in the dark and freezing temperatures at 5:30 in the morning?
Please allow me to digress for a moment to explain what Sar-El  is and why my wife and I were a part of it. The short version…..the standing Israeli Army is quite small.
However, its Reserve Army is huge. Soldiers leaving the army are required to come back, periodically, to supplement the ranks of those who are serving. At the end of the period, the reservists return their equipment and go back to their civilian lives. This makes for an enormous amount of equipment which must be inspected, cleaned, repaired, recertified and repacked. A certain number of IDF bases are designated as centers which do this work.
Rather than taking regular personnel away from their important duties, the Base Commanders can request a number of volunteers to do the work. Volunteers, mostly but not all Jewish, come from all around the world and live on these bases with the soldiers.
Their living conditions are exactly the same….if the soldiers don’t have hot showers, neither do the volunteers. Don’t like cucumbers, tomatoes and yogurt three times each day? The soldiers are eating it and so do you. Ugly green uniforms? You guessed it.
For some reason, which I alternately attributed to jet-lag, extremely cold and dry air, narrow and uncomfortable steel bunk bed or the fact that my wife was in the womens’ quarters and not beside me, I was never able to sleep past 5:00 AM. I developed a routine of getting out of bed, dashing the 50 meters to the bathroom for a shower while there was still hot water, getting dressed and then walking around all of the non-restricted areas of the base. I trudged around until my wife emerged from her quarters and we could go to the Mess Hall together for, you guessed it, cucumbers, tomatoes and yogurt. After flag raising, the work day began.

On the second morning of our tour, I discovered a small guard post at a gate in a remote spot in the fence. The post was dark but I approached and found a young soldier sitting there, watching the gate. But for the very large and intimidating rifle that she was holding, the sight would have been comical. She was very young, tiny and had a mouth full of braces! She also had on a big fuzzy hat with bunny ears and pom poms…definitely not IDF issued headwear but warm. She invited me in and the two of us started a conversation, small clouds of condensation coming from our mouths as we spoke. This turned out to be one of those tiny moments in lifetime that is so meaningful it will never be forgotten. The little Ketzel told me about her home and family, siblings and boyfriend and I described my life in America and my motivation for being in Israel. We both enjoyed the conversation, with my learning something very fundamental about life in Israel and she, having the monotony of a four- hour shift sitting in the frigid darkness, broken. We did try to discuss the Tolstoy book she was attempting to read in the near darkness but it was in Hebrew and neither of us spoke the other’s language well enough.
Every morning after that, I stopped at the little Shul on the base and brewed a kettle of hot tea. I brought the kettle to the guard house and sat and talked with the assigned soldier for a time. Each one of them was a sweet and bright “child” – with huge adult responsibilities. They told me of their families and their hopes and dreams after leaving the army and I listened and offered the same advice that I give my own grandchildren. For a few treasured moments each morning, I was the Grampa ad they, the child…..twostrangers who were “family” of the closest and best kind. At the end of our Sar El term, we hated to leave them.
At almost the same moment as we were leaving Israel on our way home, a horrible and senseless tragedy struck heroic IDF Border Policewoman Hadar Cohen and her family. In my mind, I could only see her as one of my “family” of young soldiers and her loss and the grief of her family haunts me. I just can’t have her and them forgotten and I have a small tribute planned for her. This Pesach, in addition to the cup of wine for Eliyahu and cup of water we place for Miriam on the Seder table, we are going to have an empty place setting dedicated to Hadar. It is dedicated to Hadar but will represent all of those we have lost to terrorism. I have asked all of our friends and acquaintances to set their tables as we will ours (and if they cannot accommodate an empty setting, to place a flower or candle there in her memory). My hope is that many more of us will follow suit. My real hope is that her family will be comforted in the knowledge that they do not grieve alone.
May G-d Bless you all and may G-d continue to Bless The State of Israel.

(Sidney Conn’s wife, Elenor, is the former Elenor Nozick, originally from Winnipeg)

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Hamas murdered their friend. Now, they help Israeli soldiers to keep his memory alive

David Newman (right): David died helping to save the lives of others who were at the music festival on October 7 when Hamas massacred hundreds of attendees

By VIRGINIA ALLEN (The Daily Signal) David Newman sent a text to a friend the morning of Saturday, Oct. 7. Something terrible had happened. Word quickly spread among Newman’s group of friends, who had known each other since high school.
Newman, 25, had traveled the night before to the music festival in southern Israel, close to the border with the Gaza Strip. It was supposed to be a fun weekend with his girlfriend “celebrating life,” something Newman, who served with the Israel Defense Forces, was good at and loved to do, friend Gidon Hazony recalls.
When Hazony learned that Newman, his longtime friend, was in danger, he and another friend decided they were “going to go down and try and save him.” Trained as a medic and armed with a handgun and bulletproof vest, Hazony started driving south from Jerusalem.
Hazony and his friend ended up joining with other medical personnel and “treated probably around 50 soldiers and civilians in total that day,” Hazony recalls, but they kept trying to make it south to rescue Newman.

But the two “never made it down to the party, and that’s probably for the best,” Hazony says, “because that area was completely taken over by terrorists. And if we had gone down there, I think we would’ve been killed.”
Hazony later learned that Hamas terrorists had murdered Newman on Oct. 7, but not before Newman had saved nearly 300 lives, including the life of his girlfriend.
When the terrorists began their attack on the music festival, many attendees began running to their cars. But Newman and his girlfriend encountered a police officer who warned them to run the opposite direction because the terrorists were near the vehicles, says David Gani, another friend of Newman’s.
Newman “ran in the opposite direction with his girlfriend and whoever else he could kind of corral with him,” Gani explains during an interview on “The Daily Signal Podcast.”
“They saw two industrial garbage cans, big containers, and so David told everyone, ‘Hide, hide in those containers,’” Gani says. “And so what he did over the course of the next few hours is, he would take people and … he was this big guy, and he would just chuck them in that container. And then he would go in, wait, wait till the coast is clear, and then he’d go back out, find more people, put them in there.”
Newman’s actions that day, and the atrocities Hazony and so many others in Israel witnessed Oct. 7, led Hazony, Gani, and several friends to quit their jobs and set up a nonprofit called Soldiers Save Lives. The organization is working to collect tactical and humanitarian aid for the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF.
According to the group’s website, Soldiers Save Lives has supplied over 20 IDF units and civilian response teams “with protective and self-defense gear.”
Gani, board chairman, chief financial officer, and chief technology officer of Soldiers Save Lives, and Hazony, president of the organization, recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to raise support and awareness for their mission to provide IDF troops with needed supplies.
If you would like to find out more about Soldiers Save Lives or donate to them, go to
Reprinted with permission.

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Our New Jewish Reality

Indigo bookstore in Toronto defaced

By HENRY SREBRNIK Since Oct. 7, we Jews have been witnessing an ongoing political and psychological pogrom. True, there have been no deaths (so far), but we’ve seen the very real threat of mobs advocating violence and extensive property damage of Jewish-owned businesses, and all this with little forceful reaction from the authorities.
The very day after the carnage, Canadians awoke to the news that the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust had inspired sustained celebrations in its major cities. And they have continued ever since. I’d go so far as to say the Trudeau government has, objectively, been more interested in preventing harm to Gazans than caring about the atrocities against Israelis and their state.
For diaspora Jews, the attacks of Oct. 7 were not distant overseas events and in this country since then they have inspired anti-Semitism, pure and simple, which any Jew can recognize. Even though it happened in Israel, it brought back the centuries-old memories of defenseless Jews being slaughtered in a vicious pogrom by wild anti-Semites.
I think this has shocked, deeply, most Jews, even those completely “secular” and not all that interested in Judaism, Israel or “Zionism.” Jewish parents, especially, now fear for their children in schools and universities. The statements universities are making to Jewish students across the country could not be clearer: We will not protect you, they all but scream. You’re on your own.
But all this has happened before, as we know from Jewish history. Long before Alfred Dreyfus and Theodor Herzl, the 1881 pogroms in tsarist Russia led to an awakening of proto-Zionist activity there, with an emphasis on the land of Israel. There were soon new Jewish settlements in Palestine.
The average Jew in Canada now knows that his or her friend at a university, his co-worker in an office, and the people he or she socializes with, may in fact approve, or at least not disapprove, of what happened that day in Israel. Acquaintances or even close friends may care far more about Israel killing Palestinians in Gaza. Such people may even believe what we may call “Hamas pogrom denial,” already being spread. Many people have now gone so far in accepting the demonization of Israel and Jews that they see no penalty attached to public expressions of Jew-hatred. Indeed, many academics scream their hatred of Israel and Jews as loud as possible.
One example: On Nov. 10, Toronto officers responded to a call at an Indigo bookstore located in the downtown. It had been defaced with red paint splashed on its windows and the sidewalk, and posters plastered to its windows.
The eleven suspects later arrested claimed that Indigo founder Heather Reisman (who is Jewish) was “funding genocide” because of her financial support of the HESEG Foundation for Lone Soldiers, which provides scholarships to foreign nationals who study in Israel after serving in the Israeli armed forces. By this logic, then, most Jewish properties and organizations could be targeted, since the vast majority of Jews are solidly on Israel’s side.
Were these vandals right-wing thugs or people recently arrived from the Middle East? No, those charged were mostly white middle-class professionals. Among them are figures from academia, the legal community, and the public education sector. Four are academics connected to York University (one of them a former chair of the Sociology Department) and a fifth at the University of Toronto; two are elementary school teachers; another a paralegal at a law firm.
Were their students and colleagues dismayed by this behaviour? On the contrary. Some faculty members, staff and students at the university staged a rally in their support. These revelations have triggered discussions about the role and responsibilities of educators, given their influential positions in society.
You’ve heard the term “quiet quitting.” I think many Jews will withdraw from various clubs and organizations and we will begin to see, in a sense like in the 1930s, a reversal of assimilation, at least in the social sphere. (Of course none of this applies to Orthodox Jews, who already live this way.)
Women in various feminist organizations may form their own groups or join already existing Jewish women’s groups. There may be an increase in attendance in K-12 Jewish schools. In universities, “progressive” Jewish students will have to opt out of organizations whose members, including people they considered friends, have been marching to the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and similar eliminationist rhetoric, while waving Palestinian flags.
This will mostly affect Jews on the left, who may be supporters of organizations which have become carriers of anti-Semitism, though ostensibly dealing with “human rights,” “social justice,” and even “climate change.”
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg took part in a demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm on Oct. 22 in which she chanted “crush Zionism” along with hundreds of other anti-Israel protesters. Israel is now unthinkingly condemned as a genocidal apartheid settler-colonialist state, indeed, the single most malevolent country in the world and the root of all evil.
New York Times Columnist Bret Stephens expressed it well in his Nov. 7 article. “Knowing who our friends aren’t isn’t pleasant, particularly after so many Jews have sought to be personal friends and political allies to people and movements that, as we grieved, turned their backs on us. But it’s also clarifying.”
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.

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Former Winnipegger Vivian Silver, at first thought to have been taken hostage, has now been confirmed dead

Jewish Post & News file photo

Former Winnipegger and well-known Israeli peace activist Vivian Silver has now been confirmed as having been killed during the massacre of Israelis and foreign nationals perpetrated by Hamas terrorists on October 7. Vivian, a resident of Kibbutz Be’eri was originally thought to be among the more than 1200 individuals who were taken hostage by Hamas.

To read the full story on the CBC website, go to

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