Canadian dispatches from Israel at wartime: Lawrence Witt saw the best of Israel from inside a mobile food truck

Lawrence Witt at the grill in Israel

The CJN is publishing dispatches from Canadians currently in Israel. Submissions can be sent for consideration to Lila Sarick at [email protected].

It’s hard to leave now. Leaving my family, leaving old friends, new friends. Friends with children in the fight. Like really in the fight.

Over the last 35 days, I have witnessed way too much pain and destruction but I have also seen so much inspiration, unity and beauty. I have been to shivah houses and funerals but I also went to a wedding. I cried tears of sadness but I also cried tears of joy.

I made a lot of burgers (and probably ate way too many). We spent quality family time in our bomb shelter (not really). We ran out as soon as the siren stopped, which I learned is bad, and we watched our kids become a little more Israeli.

I refined my knowledge of Israel’s geography through the red alert app and we became big fans of Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari’s press conferences where he delivered the daily war updates and reassured the nation with his inimitable precision, steadfastness and confidence.

Like many worried Israelis, I even ran out to get a piece of custom-cut wood to jam the inside of the bomb shelter door to prevent someone on the outside from opening it, which seemed like overkill seeing that we were within the relative safety of central Israel. The lady who cut the wood for us said that we should only use it as a cheese platter. Amen to that.

I also joined our building’s WhatApp group and tried to follow the hundreds of messages… every hour. If it hadn’t been for the challah bake announcements and the meal train for the residents of the Sderot who temporarily moved into our neighbourhood, I would have disconnected a while ago.

We got to know Israeli social media personalities like Guy Hochman, Adir Mizrahi and Moshe Korsia who kept us laughing and inspired even while they themselves were mobilized. We followed Maya Wertheimer who uses her platform to showcase single IDF reservists to her 500,000 followers in the hopes of making a few shidduchim. I have lost count of the impromptu weddings on IDF bases. Baruch HaShem.

I found myself crying during every patriotic TV commercial and we laughed out loud during Eretz Nedeheret war specials.

Heck, even a trip to the grocery store was an experience in national unity as evidenced by the eggs imprinted with the words “together we will win” or the chicken cutlet package with the words “the IDF will make schnitzel out of Hamas”.

 Most Wolt (food delivery service) packages also had some sort message of inspiration from the restaurant. The grocery bag packer in our local store put a flag in every bag. Somehow, I also ended up sponsoring his daughter’s sheva bracha.

The country and the people are rock solid. Yes, the wounds and collective trauma inflicted on Oct. 7 will take a long time to heal, and in some cases they will never heal. But if the small sample size of resilience, common purpose and unity that I saw over the last month is an indication, the country will emerge even stronger and even more united.

If there is one photo that symbolizes this for me—it is this photo taken at Kibbutz Be’eri. The house may have been destroyed, the people brutally murdered but the small, flimsy inflatable pool remains in its place. The day will come when the destruction will be cleaned up, people will rebuild and that pool will again be filled with carefree children playing and laughing under the watchful eyes of the amazing people who protect them.

Kibbutz Be’eri after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack

 As former prime minister Naftali Bennett said “Our victory over our enemies will not just be in the scourge of hell we unleash against them on the battlefield, but also in the rebuilding of our new lives, the Jewish people, here in the State of Israel.”

But tonight, I had to leave. I have walked the ramp at Ben Gurion Airport to the departure hall countless times and when I do, I am usually in a rush. Tonight, I walked slowly, passing by the posters with the names and beautiful faces of the hostages who are not yet with their loved ones—may they be reunited soon.

When we finish a tractate of Talmud, we recite the Hadran prayer to celebrate the completion. The prayer starts with the words “we will return to you”, meaning the return to the study of the very tractate that we just finished. It is an odd thing to say upon the completion of a tractate, which is a monumental accomplishment.

Finishing a tractate takes time, patience, dedication and a love of learning. One of the reasons we say the Hadran is because as much as we think we know—we always need to go back to the starting point and re-focus, maybe learn the lessons through a different lens, with different experiences.

For years, I would always recite a silly, made-up “hadran” to myself when leaving Israel. A personal reminder to ensure that even at the departure, we must be mindful of the next return. In keeping with my tradition, tonight—I said my personal “hadran” only this time it was slightly different.

We will return to this tractate that is the story of the State of Israel. I am so excited to become part of this amazing story.

הדרן עלך מסכת מדינת ישראל! אני מתרגש להיות חלק מהסיפור המדהים הזה…

Lawrence Witt is a labour, employment and human rights lawyer in Montreal. In the early 1990’s, he studied at Yeshivat Machon Meir in Jerusalem and served in the IDF as a lone soldier in the Armored Corps.

Lawrence, together with his wife Deena and their three children, has been in Israel since the onset of the war. Along with his friends, Franck Azoulay and Judah Aspler, he mobilized a food truck and volunteers and has served nearly 4,000 fresh BBQ meals to IDF soldiers on bases and field outposts on the northern and southern borders, as well as to displaced residents of the south currently being housed in the Dead Sea area. Click here to read updates or to contribute to the campaign.