Heroes come in all forms. As the war in Gaza entered its fourth day and Israel recovered control of its southern region following Hamas’s Oct. 7 assault, which left over 1,200 Israelis dead, the atmosphere in Tel Aviv remained heavy. However, despite the deafening silence in the deserted streets of the white city, which one can only liken to Yom Kippur eve, some have decided, in a shared surge of patriotism, to defy Hamas’s psychological warfare by getting out of the house and making themselves useful to their beloved land.
Over 360,000 military reservists have been mobilized and many more are making their way back to Israel from all parts of the world. Israeli civilians, meanwhile, are committed to guaranteeing these soldiers are as comfortable as they can be given the situation.
Many made their way to the nearest volunteering point to support organizers bringing solace and comfort to those on the front lines and to the victims of Hamas’s murderous acts. Together they collect and distribute food, children’s clothing and all kinds of essentials to those in need.
JNS spoke to Matan, 26, from Tel Aviv, who is volunteering at a gourmet restaurant in the city, whose chef is preparing delicious meals to be delivered to soldiers in the Gaza Strip.
“Like each and every Israeli citizen at the moment, I am appalled by what is happening right now, but I have never seen my people so united. I am inspired by this surge of solidarity, cohesion and generosity which reinforces the feeling that we will be okay,” he said.
More volunteers gathered at the Dizengoff Center shopping mall to bring all sorts of supplies, from essential toiletries and children’s clothing to technical equipment, with a level of expertise confirming that this was not their first rodeo.
There, JNS met Roy, 24, from Herzliya.
“I came to Dizengoff Center today because I couldn’t sit home. I’m eager to serve. In the meantime, I have a lot of friends and family in army units and I want to make sure that they have everything they need to complete their mission. I’ve already lost friends in this war, and that’s why I believe my place is here. I may be afraid, but I know we’ll make it out together,” he said.
The gathering at the Dizengoff Center was organized by Jude, 42 years old from Tel Aviv. Jude decided to take matters into her own hands after a friend texted her from the battlefield informing her that his unit lacked certain tactical equipment.
“I made a few phone calls, used my connections, and got him everything he needed. Then others started calling me so I turned it into a full-fledged event. I took my phone and texted everyone asking them to spread the word. And now we’re here. As you can see, we love our soldiers. This is what Israel is all about; unity in difficult times. I am expecting a lot more people to join in the coming days,” she said.
Jude told JNS that she had received generous donations from New York, Miami and other U.S. states, confirming once again the longstanding commitment of Americans to the state of Israel, in addition to donations from all over the country.
She is calling on Tel Avivis to join her volunteering journey.
In tandem with pro-bono services and fundraising activities, on Dizengoff Street, while most shops and restaurants have remained closed since the beginning of the war, some business owners see it as their contribution to Israeli society and a civil duty to break the status quo.
Such is the case of Deborah, 42, who owns a bakery on Dizengoff Street. Despite the ongoing situation, Deborah says she knew that people would show up, and felt she could not let them down.
“In the last few years, going through Covid, we’ve seen how being confined at home affected people and was conducive to anxiety. I remember customers being thrilled to stop by our coffee shop even only for a few minutes, get a coffee and buy some sweets for their children. I could not take that away from them. They’ve all already lost so much. You can’t imagine how many people have thanked us already,” she said.
With schools and kindergartens closed indefinitely and amid ghastly reports emerging from Israel’s southern communities, Deborah and her husband take turns at the shop so as not to leave their children alone in the house.
When asked whether he was scared, Yosef, 74, from Ramat Gan, who owns an Italian restaurant a little further down Dizengoff Street, responded that he draws his strength from “emunah,” the Hebrew word for faith. He added: “Feeding people is what I live for. It’s my civil service to this country. If someone needs a pizza, a plate of pasta, that’s what I’m here for and I’m not scared to be here. God is with me.”
He urges everyone to do the same: “Keep your head high and keep living, because that is the only way we’ll defeat them.”