I was reminded of a great personal story as I drove my son back to his army base this past week. It was also an incredible parental teaching moment from 15 years ago this week. In 2006, Israel fought a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. The war lasted over a month. Nearly 200 Israelis died and thousands were injured. Thousands of rockets were fired at Israel. There was vast destruction across northern Israel, and the army had more or less closed it as a war zone, even though many continued to live in their homes. The Galilee is beautiful and lush, a popular destination for Israelis to go on vacation. But that summer all vacations were canceled. Many hotels became a respite for the soldiers.
My family was lucky. Our vacation was set for the week after the war ended, and we went to the hotel on the Sea of Galilee. One day, I set out early along and found a local grocery store. I packed the back of our minivan with as many 1.5-liter bottles of drinks as I could fit. Later, when we got in the car, I continued a tradition my father started, and started a new one.
Our “Mystery Ride” began heading north. My kids wanted to know where we were going but I wouldn’t say. The further north we got, the more obvious it was where we were going. Tanks and armored personnel carriers were all over the place. Acres of fields were burned due to the rockets creating devastating fires. Metal road signs showed the scars of bolts and ball bearings that had been packed into the rockets to inflict the maximal damage. Lebanon, here we come.
My kids became more and more anxious, and more and more vocal about it. They knew the war had ended, but still, they didn’t want to be going where we were going. I kept driving, following my sense of direction, and soon found myself on a dirt road. I didn’t realize HOW close we were to Lebanon until, out of nowhere, two soldiers stepped out of some bushes where they must have been keeping cool from the brutal heat. They told me I couldn’t drive any further, that we were in a military area. “Cool,” I thought to myself. I got out of the car. The soldiers still not sure why I was there. I opened the back to reveal dozens of bottles of drinks. “We came here to give you these.”
I told my kids to come out and help unload the car. The soldiers were speechless. In gratitude, they scooped up bullet casings from the ground where we were standing as a gift for the kids, underscoring how close we were to the border. A strange but meaningful souvenir.
Minutes later I was backing out of the dirt road, mission accomplished, and then went to more traditional vacation activities. But I didn’t let the teaching moment pass. I explained to my kids, now calm and feeling good about what we did, why it was important. One day, I said, they would have the opportunity to drive to bring treats to their brothers (the oldest of whom was just seven and is now the paratrooper I drove to his base last week), hopefully not following a war, but just to do something nice for them.
Israel is in a prolonged heatwave set to last much of the month. The Genesis 123 Foundation is providing a grassroots way for friends from all over the world to show appreciation to the young men and women in service, sending warm wishes while keeping the soldiers cool. What’s even more special is how you can join us.
With no end in sight for the heat to end, this week we provided cool refreshments – cold drinks and watermelon – to make them feel appreciated. Even my son’s girlfriend who is in a non- combat unit usually working indoors mentioned how hot it is on her base, so I said to myself, ‘We have to do this.’ I announced the program on the Genesis 123 Foundation Facebook page. The outpouring of support for the soldiers has been gratifying. The appreciation from the soldiers has been incredible.
Temperatures are ranging from the mid to upper 30s Celsius (95 Fahrenheit), to well above 40 in some areas. Through its ongoing Bless a Soldier program , the Genesis 123 Foundation is offering individuals the opportunity to provide cold drinks ($3), a sweet watermelon ($6), and ice cream ($6 each). Ministries and others are also invited to sponsor an ice cream truck to visit an army base ($3200 for 500 people).
In addition to sending cool treats, Bless a Soldier also invites people to send warm wishes to the soldiers. When sponsoring the treats, people can also send a personal note in any language which can be translated, and delivered with the refreshments. Earlier this year, a church in Canada participated, sending dozens of letters of greeting that were very appreciated.
Because its mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians and Christians with Israel, this program adds extra meaning. Israelis have heard about it are stepping up to donate, intuitively. Some are also asking if Genesis 123 can deliver to their children or grandchildren serving in remote areas on the Lebanese or Syrian border, or in the middle of the Negev desert, where temperatures are expected to go well above 40 degrees Celsius (105 Fahrenheit).
In the context of building bridges between Jews and Christians, this is a really great way through which Israelis can feel and appreciate the support of Christians from all over the world, not just supporting soldiers in general, but specifically the children and grandchildren of those who are also donating within Israel. What a nice opportunity to be able to do this to support our soldiers, together.
I invite you to be part of this beautiful family tradition and national obligation, to show your support for the soldiers. Its not a war, but it is hot. It only costs a few dollars to do something nice for them, but the smiles you’ll bring are priceless. I know, I have been privileged to see that in person.