“Don’t thank us, we are just doing our jobs”.
What is a job? Is it merely an occupation or task? Is it a set of goals that one wishes to accomplish? A “job” may mean different things to different people, but while the interpretation of what a job is may differ, very few would deem doing something that risks life and limb a mere job. Knowing this, how must I come to terms with what I experienced and consistently heard last week on the Israel Solidarity Mission I was part of?
When I arrived in Israel I was nervous how I would be perceived. At home I generally feel some level of self worth, but how can I feel worthy of anything when kids my age and younger are fighting and risking everything for my people and beliefs. When I arrived at my trip’s first army base I felt embarrassed and my feeling of self worth escaped me. I was wearing a polo shirt, J Crew shorts and sneakers while my Israeli peers were wearing army green uniforms and black boots. I was wearing a watch and the soldiers were wearing weapons, I was nervous about a stomachache and the soldiers were focused on the Hamas terrorists only a couple miles away in Gaza. As I was becoming more and more embarrassed, and a bit ashamed, I was caught off guard by the cheerful and overly gracious voices of Israeli soldiers. “No, Thank You!, was all I heard coming from the mouths of the amazing soldiers we were continuously meeting. While I was attempting to show my immense appreciation and admiration for those I considered to be heroes, those heroes were treating me as if I was the hero and I was the one risking everything.
I was in shock. Every solider I visited, whether it be on an army base, hospital, or rehabilitation center was thanking and praising me for merely jumping on a plane and riding a bus to come see him/her. My initial feelings of self-worthlessness and embarrassment were beginning to transform into confusion and awe. I kept asking myself how the heroes and warriors of the Jewish people could possibly thank me when they were the ones fighting and they were the ones risking everything. I felt that my trip was outside of the war, merely an aid and means of supporting the effort against the most recent enemies of the Jewish people. The soldiers were making it seem like I was part of the effort itself. This contrast was forcing me to reevaluate what I was doing and what exactly my mission to Israel was about.
Going into the last day of my trip, I found myself utterly amazed and bewildered at the Israeli soldiers and civilians we had met. I came to Israel in order to thank and show how much I appreciated them, but the exact opposite kept on happening. Why were these people who were physically suffering and experiencing terror thanking me for merely coming to see them? I found my answer on my last army base visit. I was greeted by a reservist who was commanding a tank unit on the border with Gaza. Upon seeing him, I immediately began thanking him and showing my appreciation for what he was doing and the sacrifices he was making. This solider, similar to the countless others I had met, began emphatically thanking me for coming to see him. But in addition to thanking me this solider said something that completely changed my understanding and reconciled what had been bothering me since the moment I first heard a solider thank me “Don’t thank us, we are just doing our jobs”.
A job is more than a task or occupation, it extends beyond goals set by oneself- a job is a role that one must fill. According to the soldiers, their service and sacrifices was the role they were playing in the ultimate Jewish fight against terror and anti Semitism. The appreciation and gratitude they showed toward me was a result of this belief and understanding. The courageous soldiers believed that what I was doing was another role being filled by another “solider” in the war. My trip to Israel and the soldiers I visited helped me realize that what I do to defend and support Israel in the US is significant. It is the role I am filling, it is the job I am fulfilling. We must be active in our service to the Jewish People for just as we need and appreciate those on the battlefield of Gaza, those in Israel need and appreciate us on the battlefields abroad.