Essay: Israel At War: So Far, So Near


Here in New York City, it can be difficult to wrap one’s mind around the reports we get from Israel — the vicious deaths of four teenagers followed by more death and destruction; parents singing Hebrew lullabies in the bomb shelter of a Jerusalem bookstore; elephants sheltering their young in the Ramat Gan zoo as sirens scream and also the continuity of ordinary life, a mood that one Facebook friend describes as “tense normal.”

But there’s one thing that a few resourceful individuals teach us: Even from across the ocean, it’s not that difficult to do something small but powerful to diminish suffering.

Take Leora Packer. As the rockets rained down all over Israel this past week, Packer, a Long Island native who made aliyah four years ago, launched Operation Pizza Storm, showering the hardest hit regions with crusty pies.

Her missive to the world, posted on Facebook by several of her friends, asked readers to order pizza for the families of southern Israel, where the barrage of attacks has shut down all summer camps. She and her husband Shmuel, who live in a Tel Aviv suburb, had been involved in a similar pizza drive two years ago, during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense.

This time, the project drew hundreds of callers from Australia to California. In sometimes-rusty Hebrew, callers stumbled over the script that had been supplied to place orders, with one woman breaking down in tears as her conversation was interrupted twice by sirens. The initiative, ongoing, feeds not only the exhausted, stir-crazy residents of the region, but also supplies income to the owners of pizza shops in these downtrodden areas.

“I wanted to reach the small businesses and simple people,” says Packer, a 25-year-old mother of two, and psychology student at Bar-Ilan University, explaining why she chose to initiate her own effort, rather than focus on a pre-existing program of a major organization. “Also, I realized that it would help people in the U.S. feel less hopeless, like there’s nothing they can do.” (

Another individual who hasn’t sat idly by is Noah Greenfield, a new resident of Brooklyn, who is 30, A father of two, he has been ordained as a rabbi by Yeshiva University, and is working toward a law degree from Yale University while also completing a doctorate in religion from the University of California, Berkeley.

Like so many Jews around the world, Greenfield mourned for the four teenage boys murdered this past month. When he learned the tragic news of the deaths of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrah and Gil-Ad Shaer, he quickly found an email address to transmit his condolences. When he learned about the loss of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, he thought that a Jewish agency would have made a similar arrangement, but couldn’t find an organized effort to offer sympathies.

“When Mohammad was murdered my wife and I felt very sad, and believed that others would be sad too, and there should be some sort of outlet,” says Greenfield, who has been involved in interfaith dialogue. “We thought about the boys in a similar way to Mohammad.”

Greenfield asked his community of more than 2,000 Facebook friends if anyone could put him in contact with the Abu Khdeir family. Greenfield then called the family, and set up a Gmail account to collect letters, so he could screen the content before delivery.

All the letters have been respectful, and a family member has expressed gratitude for the effort. Greenfield, himself, unfortunately, has received hate mail. Readers can still send condolences to this address:

If the current conflict isn’t resolved soon, two Upper West Side friends, Meredith Berkman and Sarah Sternklar, plan to coordinate another “Moms For Israel” event in August in the eastern end of the Hamptons. The pair has been involved in similar efforts during past Israel crises, but for the first time this summer, their children will be organizers as well. Berkman’s daughter, Noa Mintz, suggested a companion event, “Teens for Israel.”

“As this drags out, a public showing of support becomes more important,” says Berkman, who will invite the local synagogues to participate.

These grassroots events date back to 2006, when Berkman recalls that she and Sternklar couldn’t imagine “just sitting around enjoying our vacations while there was a ground invasion in Lebanon.” With 10 days of planning, that first event attracted 400 people, and Magen David Adom received $250,000 in charitable funds. Berkman, a writer, says, “It was unprecedented for me. I had never raised a dollar in my life.”

Elicia Brown’s column appears the second week of the month. Email: