Far from Home

Israeli soldiers patrol near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. (Gilad Kavalerchik/Polaris/Newscom)

Israeli soldiers patrol near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
(Gilad Kavalerchik/Polaris/Newscom)

Julie August of Pikesville can’t help but get choked up when talking about her son, Josh. A soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, Josh, 20, will be transferred from his usual post in the northern part of Israel to a base near Gaza in the next day or two. The Augusts are one of many families from Jewish Baltimore with children serving in the Israeli army. Some like Josh, a Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School graduate, were already on active duty, while others are among the 40,000 reservists called up to serve as part of Operation Protective Edge.

“All the fighters, especially the lone soldiers [who do not have parents or siblings in the country] are showing incredible courage,” said August, who grew up in Israel and “understands and appreciates the desire to serve.”

But that doesn’t mean she isn’t worried.

“I’m fluent in Hebrew so I’ve been reading all the newspapers,” she said. And in recent days, the news from Israel has not been good.

Vito and Gail Simone of Summit Park don’t know yet whether their son, Alex, will be deployed. Vito Simone said Alex had recently been in Baltimore for a two-week visit. “We just took him to the airport, and he just returned to Tel Aviv where he lives,” he said of the 26-year-old, also a Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School graduate, who immigrated to Israel three years ago.

“He has always been passionate about Israel and his Jewish identity. We are very proud and sometimes anxious,” he admitted. “Fortunately, we don’t have iPhones so we’re not getting red alerts on our phones all the time to drive us crazy.”

Simone said he has been disappointed by what he sees as local politicians’ lack of condemnation for Hamas and the absence of strong support for families like his own who have children serving in the IDF.

“I would like to see elected officials, especially those who are Jewish,  come forward and really encourage people to support Israel and our young people there,” explained the father. “There is a strong constituency of families in Baltimore and elsewhere in Maryland with children who are serving. The silence has been shameful.”

In contrast, he pointed out, he and his family have been grateful for the many friends and relatives who have contacted them to provide support and reassurance.

“They have even tried to thank us for his service,” said Simone. “I don’t know if I can take the credit. These kids are so excited to be part of the
effort to defend Israel.”

Penina Eilberg and her family, formerly of Baltimore, learned that their oldest son, Pesach, 25, once a student at Talmudic Academy and Yeshivat Ram Bam, would be deployed while they were at a commemorative ceremony to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the family’s move to Israel. Despite her concern for her son and the fact that she has experienced violence and terror attacks such as rocks thrown into car windows, drive-by shootings and Molotov cocktails close to her home in the Nof Zion neighborhood near Jerusalem, Eilberg denied having any regrets about the decision to make aliyah.

“This is our land, our place and we have to make sure we have a safe place to live,” she said. “That’s not to say I’m not nervous, but the more of us who are here the better.”

Pesach Eilberg’s grandmother, Rachel Eilberg, who still lives in Pikesville, admitted she was tense.

“When I’m tense, I usually run out and buy myself ice cream, and I’ve been doing that a lot. But look, we all have our duties. I’ll be back in Israel in September for a granddaughter’s wedding, and I’ll hope for peace and quiet,” she said.

Rabbi Menachem Goldberger of Congregation Tferes Yisroel said that many of the families who were members of his congregation have made aliyah in recent years. Therefore, he knows many young people who are now active duty soldiers and reservists. Among the congregants who will be serving are Noam Orman, Dani and Aryeh Eastman and Avi Schamroth.

“We feel a number of things [about congregants serving in the IDF],” said Goldberger. “[We feel] pride in their courage and devotion to the Jewish people and also concern since they are out there in harm’s way. We have been saying extra prayers for them during services and individually. My wife has a tehillim group and they have been meeting frequently.”

Goldberger said that although he has not spoken directly with the young men, he has been in contact with their families through email.

“I just hope God will watch over the Jewish people and that the Israeli government will have the determi-nation to finish this so we do not have to live with this way any longer,” he added.


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