April 9, 2024
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April 9, 2024
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Unpacking My Mission to Israel

Shepsi, Home Security

“Stay safe” is what my relatives and non-Jewish friends were saying as I left for our community’s mission to Israel at the end of February. Ironically, as so many others have declared before me, I felt safer throughout Israel than I sometimes do in the United States.

Spoiler Alert: The extent of the organizing skills you will learn from this particular column may be me trying to clearly and compassionately unpack the events of my mission. This month I have a need to share thoughts about this trip as opposed to sharing recent decluttering stories. Read until the end for some cool details about some Israeli homes I visited.

Everywhere we traveled there were police and soldiers looking out for their country. One might expect the Israelis to be subdued and depressed, however, the people were confident and upbeat about the outcome of the war. Observing the countless civilians and soldiers carrying guns made me feel safe. I had total confidence these men and women know how to handle their weapons. When a soldier I was conversing with at one of the now-famous barbecues sponsored by supporters of the IDF throughout the Jewish world lifted his Uzi a bit close to me, I sort of laughed and said, “That’s awkward.” He smiled and assured me the gun was empty, but nevertheless moved it.

We heard many stories of strong and courageous Israelis, and I wish I had the space to relate all their unselfish actions and quick responses. Elior, a member of his kibbutz security, showed us around Kibbutz Zikim, located by the beach on the Gaza border. Zikim security prevented the terrorists from entering its gates. Elior assured us the residents of Zikim will not relinquish their homes, and recognize they must depend upon themselves to defend their homes and their land.

Sarah, a woman from Kfar Maimon who owns an orchard, requested our help picking fruit that had rotted due to labor shortages. She graciously invited all 40 of our mission attendees into her roomy salon for tea, cakes and locally grown dates, before working in her orchard. I noticed that the safe room in this home was a mid-sized room off a hall near the kitchen. It contained a full-sized refrigerator. Perhaps the reason for this was to have food available whenever Sarah’s family needed to stay in their safe room for an extended period, which of course, occurred on October 7.

Sarah shared the story of her sister-in-law and family who lived on a nearby kibbutz, relating how the terrorists were able to get access to the sister-in-law’s laptop and go onto her personal Facebook page and share the terror the family was experiencing in real time. Of the five family members, two daughters were taken hostage and b”H were released, but the other three were murdered. Sarah asked us to honor the memory of her family by retelling their story and for lack of time, released us from produce-picking.

For Sarah, so grateful for the chance to tell her family’s story, the most important thing she needed from us was a listening ear. She made us cry by saying our presence in the room sealed a permanent holiness into the walls. Although she praised us for traveling to Israel to volunteer and bear witness, we all extolled her for living so bravely.

At Tel Hashomer, a hospital for injured soldiers, Shira and Itai, a newly married couple, related their somber story. We were struck by how they were smiling and upbeat, celebrating Itai’s healing. We took photos of them, repeatedly remarking how beautiful they are. They insisted that we are the beautiful ones for coming to Israel and visiting the hospital.

The Israeli business owners have their own difficulties. The shop owners were so happy to see us enter their stores. Several of the mission members said the owners thanked them for coming in, even when they did not make a purchase. My friend said she was supporting the economy by buying items she did not actually need. I joked that I highly support her, even if the purchases create clutter in her home. My husband bought a silver kiddush cup from a picturesque shop on Ben Yehuda Street. The shop owner was extremely grateful and told us that although he appreciated that we bought some of his crockery, our purchase of the kiddush cup will help him pay his bills.

Being a minimalist, my shopping list read “only earrings that I love.” While shopping in the Old City, a bright, attractive jewelry store/showroom drew me in. The salesman, the son of the jewelry designer, said he could redesign a piece of jewelry or he could design something totally new. Together we redesigned a pair of earrings to become just my style. Due to the scarcity of tourists, this father-and-son team was forced to close their showroom for several months and rely on their website. Mine was his first in-store sale since October 7! Hearing that made me want to buy more of their jewelry, but I decided instead to keep tabs on their beautiful website for a future purchase. If anyone wants the jewelers’ names or see their website, please reach out to me.

After the mission was over, we visited the homes of friends who have made aliyah as well as friends who have bought second homes in Israel. One friend bought her two-bedroom apartment before it was built, which meant she and her husband could customize it according to their needs. They made two adaptations. They gave the second bedroom an extra-thick door and made it into a safe room, instead of relying on the building’s ground-floor safe room. Secondly, they took the area meant to be a half-bath and repurposed it to be a storage closet, leaving them with two full baths. Since storage space is at a premium, they felt it was a wise trade-off. Other friends of ours have a three-bedroom apartment in an older building where a contractor recently completed the building of three additional floors, expanding upwards and outwards. To compensate owners for the inconvenience of major construction, contractors build extra rooms in each apartment. Our friends’ apartment went from a three-bedroom apartment to a five-bedroom apartment. Not too shabby!

My takeaways from my three-day mission to Israel are the stories of the people, be they raw and heartbreaking or jubilant and triumphant. I will continuously think of Elior from Kibbutz Zikim and his resolve to protect his land, of Sarah from Kfar Maimon and her great love for her family, of the soldiers convalescing in Tel Hashomer Hospital and the smiles on their faces, and of the many shopkeepers who welcome everyone and hope for paying customers. I observed the resiliency of the Israelis and their determination to live their lives as joyously as they can, showing the jihadists they are not in control. I urge everyone who may be planning an international get-away to make 2024 the year you travel to Israel.

May we merit to hear only good news. A freilichen Purim to all!

Ellen Smith is Central Jersey’s Kosher Organizer. For over 15 years, she has helped people restore order and create calm in their homes and souls. Ellen believes “Clutter Clogs, but Harmony Heals.” See Ellen’s work on Instagram @ideclutterbyEllen. Contact Ellen for a complimentary phone consultation at ideclutter407@gmail.

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