Tami Gross, originally from Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, and now living in Weaverville, NC, arrived in Jerusalem last Thursday, just in time for Purim. But Tami is here for a more serious purpose than enjoying the recent lighthearted holiday. She is preparing, together with her 22-year-old oleh chadash son, Judah, currently an ulpan student, to run the Jerusalem Marathon this week. Tami’s parents, who made aliyah a month ago, will join them – at least in spirit – by walking the 4K section of the race. This will be Tami’s second year in the Jerusalem Marathon. After running a number of marathons in the US, she received an informational package from El Al when the JM was opened up to international entrants. As a lifelong strong Zionist, she knew that she had to participate in this particular race. Tami is especially motivated because she is running in memory of an outstanding oleh. Michael Levin, z”l, made aliyah from Pennsylvania – alone – at the youthful age of 19 and enlisted in the IDF paratroopers. He lived in Jerusalem for a time with two other young soldiers. In early 2006, the army granted him a special discharge to go and visit his family back in America. When Michael heard that war had broken out on the Lebanon border, he cut short his vacation in order to return to Israel and fight for his country. Three days later, on August 1, 2006, the 22-year-old hero fell in battle.
As a close friend of Michael’s parents, Tami supports their tremendous efforts to memorialize their son by improving conditions for chayalim bodedim (lone soldiers), who serve Israel without the family support system so taken for granted by their comrades. A number of donors are contributing to the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center in recognition of her run. The pledges she has collected so far this year already match 2011’s total contributions … before she has even run the marathon (!), and are earmarked for the purchase of a van for the Center. Our AACI interviewer had three burning questions for Tami. One was how she feels while running the Jerusalem Marathon. She responded that, in an American marathon, she gets into “the zone” and is completely focused on putting one foot in front of the other. In Jerusalem, however, it is very different: She often becomes teary-eyed while running, as she experiences the outpouring of love and support for the runners and beholds Yerushalayim’s ancient vistas. The second question was what we, as individual Americans and Canadians, and other English-speakers, in Israel, can do for our chayalim bodedim. Tami encourages families to “adopt” these soldiers, providing help with finding an apartment and moving in, a warm place to go for a home-cooked meal, or a relaxing Shabbat. (Editor’s note: offer to do a load of laundry for your chayal and let them sleep!)
Finally, how does a Jewish mother feel at the prospect Tami is facing, of having a child in the IDF? I think she speaks for all of us when she describes her mixed emotions: “worried and proud.”
Michael Levin, z”l, is honored on the AACI Memorial Wall, which bears the names of over 300 Americans or Canadians and their immediate family who died either serving in the Israel Defense Forces or its predecessors, or as victims of terror. Every year a Memorial Service is held at the site in the AACI Memorial Forest on a hilltop above the Sha’ar Hagai Junction to unveil the new names and remember the the fallen. Each year we pray that next year there will be a ceremony, but no new names added to the Wall. The moving ceremony is attended by the bereaved families, scores of young people from the various groups which bring students from abroad, and representatives of the American and the Canadian embassies in Israel.
The AACI believes that the moving stories of those who died in the line of duty will resonate with young people to inspire the next generation of leadership, who will, in turn, keep alive the narratives of the Canadians and Americans who made the supreme sacrifice for our country.
AACI would like to expand this sort of experience and share it with more young people in more places with the implementation of a new program. The proposed program – developed by leading educators and implemented by a coordinator training youth facilitators to work with each organization – will be aimed at English-speaking young adults in Israel on educational or volunteer programs, as well as local youth movements. It will concentrate on the personal stories of the individual fallen who are listed on our Memorial Wall and give the background of the specific period or war in which they fell. In addition, we will develop a website as an educational tool to memorialize and accompany the program. We are seeking donors to pursue this project. Click here to learn more about the program or to make a contribution.