It’s half an hour after Shabbat has ended—a week after the war in Israel began. It’s raining outside as I walk into a busy Terminal 4 at JFK Airport. I’ve never been to the airport without having a plane to catch, but I am here now to help load hundreds of supplies for soldiers onto a flight to Israel.
In the center of the terminal, over fifty cardboard boxes are stacked on top of each other, creating a wall in the heart of the commotion. Next to them are piles and piles of duffel bags and a diverse group of Jews. I spot my father among a sprinkling of kippah-wearing men. Parents and teens—some of whom are my neighbors from my hometown of West Hempstead, New York—stand around dozens of black and bright blue duffel bags stuffed with toothpaste, T-shirts, underwear, duct tape, headlamps and socks.
The boxes, filled with $50,000 worth of tourniquets, restrict my view. Bearded Israelis exchange instructions in Hebrew. A heavyset man with reddish hair speaks with airport security as if he’s in charge.
I remember how different things were a week ago.
It’s Motzaei Chag. I turn on my phone. I heard about the war during Simchat Torah, but I don’t know too many details. We know things are bad, but we don’t know how bad.
My friend from London has come for Sukkot.
Her friend, who lives on a kibbutz in the South, has been taken hostage by Hamas.
A girl from my hometown who was home from the IDF for Sukkot is told to stay in the US. Her entire unit has been killed. Don’t come back, they tell her. There’s nothing for you here.
Another friend’s classmate, a chayal, has been killed. I find out on an Instagram post.
I read every news site possible.
I feel numb.
I must do something.
On Tuesday, I see a Facebook post: friends from West Hempstead are collecting supplies for Israeli soldiers.
On Wednesday, I plan a donation drive with friends from my community on the Upper West Side. I post a flyer advertising the drive on Instagram and send it to other accounts to spread the word.
A few hours later, we are ready, but we don’t know what to expect.
A young woman arrives at our Upper West Side apartment. She tells us she came from Brooklyn as she unloads a backpack and a large shopping bag full of men’s socks and deodorant. Watching her, I am reminded of Mary Poppins’ bag—the more items she takes out of the bag, the more there seem to be. A short man with a kippah and a shy smile enters. Friends from the neighborhood come in and out, donating T-shirts, chargers and headlamps. Some stay to talk.
A non-religious graduate school student peeks his head through the door; like many others, he’s heard about the donation drive through Instagram. He empties a large backpack full of T-shirts and towels. He’s disturbed by his fellow students’ responses to the war. “They don’t realize,” he says. “Hamas would kill them all if they got near them.”
By the end of the evening, we’ve collected hundreds of dollars’ worth of supplies, enough to fill four-and-a-half large duffel bags. Some duffels are shuttled off to JFK that very night. Together with a friend, I lug the rest to West Hempstead, where we will spend Shabbat.
On Friday afternoon before Shabbat, Rabbi Elon Soniker of Congregation Anshei Shalom in West Hempstead sends out an alert: fifty soldiers need homes for Shabbat—their flight has been canceled. Within half an hour, enough places are arranged to house a hundred soldiers. The owner of the local kosher Chinese restaurant runs back to the restaurant to begin preparing Shabbat food for the soldiers.
Soon we find out it was all a miscommunication. But we know what the community is capable of.
Shabbat ends. We are ready to send supplies on the next flight to Tel Aviv leaving in a few hours. My family and I arrive at our neighbor’s house to pick up bags for the flight.
Inside, the house is a flurry of motion. Someone sits on the floor with duct tape and a Sharpie marker, labeling duffel bags. Havdalah is made for those who haven’t heard it. A CEO of a marketing company from West Orange introduces himself before disappearing off to JFK. His pickup truck is loaded with duffel bags. A man he’s just met from Silver Spring accompanies him.
At the airport, my father buys luggage carts until his credit card declines the payment, assuming it is fraud. A group of heavily geared police officers appear in the terminal lobby. We are here for you; they tell my father. They have come to help guard the dozens of duffel bags.
Chassidic yeshivah students on their way to Israel approach us, speaking in rapid-fire Hebrew. Are these for the chayalim? We want to help!
Chiloni Israelis, Modern Orthodox Americans wearing knit kippot, traditional Sephardim—Jews of all kinds run in and out of the terminal, as more cars filled with duffel bags arrive. We are told there may not be room on the plane.
Late that evening, I catch a ride back to West Hempstead with a neighbor. The next morning, pictures and videos of the soldiers unloading our black and bright blue duffel bags prove they have received it all.
As I write these words, two weeks into the war, no one knows when this will end. But we do know these efforts will not stop until it does.
This is unity.
Batsheva Moskowitz is an associate editor at Jewish Action.