December 19, 2006 / 28 Kislev 5767
Through its groundbreaking Babait Beyahad / At Home-Together program established in 2003 with the support of its partners around the world, the Jewish Agency mobilizes Israeli citizens to "adopt" new immigrants during their first two years in Israel. Nowhere was this more poignant than for lone soldiers who served in the Lebanon war.
Shosh and Amos Hirsch from Moshav Bet Yitzhak, close to Netanya, decided to open their home and their hearts to a young new immigrant from the Ukraine, Jerman Vladimirski. Jerman came to Israel on the Jewish Agency's Na'aleh program at the age of 16, without his parents, to get a quality education and build a secure future in his homeland.
“I remember hearing about this great program to help new immigrants," says Amos, a Quality Assurance Manager for a successful high tech company. "We approached the Jewish Agency and were impressed with their efficiency. When they told us about Jerman, we wanted to meet him. He was 18 at the time, and shortly due to be called up."
The implications of accepting someone virtually unknown into their family was something that the Hirsch’s took into consideration. They consulted with their three children, Ofir (26), Amit (24) and Lee (16), who all wholeheartedly supported their decision.
Amos remembers, "At the outset, I felt that maybe we should just be grateful that both of our sons passed through their military service unscathed, and make do with that. However, when I heard about Jerman, and this bold move that he had made, I felt that we should meet him."
The Hirsch's invited Jerman for Friday night dinner. "I am sure that it must have been difficult for him, as he is quite shy and modest," says Shosh, an accountant. "Since that evening he has become part of our family.”
A few months later, Jerman was drafted into the Israeli army as part of a special patrol group attached to the paratroop regiment. The Hirsch's went with him to the induction center and supported his army service as if he was their son.
“We visited him at every opportunity, and our sons gave him all the advice that they could from their army experiences,” says Amos.
During the recent war, many young men defended their adopted country in one of the cruelest wars in Israel's history. Jerman was one of the first soldiers to enter deep into Lebanese territory.
“From day one his platoon was in the midst of the heaviest fighting," recalls Amos. "At first, Jerman sent us SMS messages from his mobile phone. But these soon stopped. We knew that he was in Bint Jbeil, where the paratroopers sustained grave casualties, and we were frantic."
“We were in constant touch with Hagit, our contact person from the Babait Beyahad program, but she was equally in the dark. Then, after 10 days, Jerman called us to say that he was fine, and that his platoon was going on a 24 hour leave in Israel," he continues.
In spite of the constant bombardment of Katyusah rockets over northern Israel, Amos, Shosh, Ophir, Amit and Lee set off without a moment's hesitation to visit Jerman.
“He was so pleased to see us," recalls Shosh. "But like a mother, I could read the pain in his eyes. His platoon lost two of their men, and many had been injured. They consoled each other and took strength from the support of their families."
“I will never forget that moment, and how grateful we all were to be there for our brave Jerman.”
As the Hirsch's watched Jerman and his friends divide up their care packages with the lone soldiers who had no visitors, Amos and Shosh both felt a terrible pain for those young men who were alone and risking their lives for Israel.
“The hallowed work that the Jewish Agency is doing with this program was never more emphasized,” says Shosh.
Jerman thankfully came through the war safely. With one year left to serve, he has the option of staying on as an officer in his unit or going on to study.
Amos surmises, "I have noticed a change in Jerman since the war. Despite of, or maybe because of, the traumatic experiences that he went through, I feel that he has really decided to put down his roots in Israel. “
“As far as we are concerned, no matter where he goes or what he decides for his future, we will always look upon him as part of our family," say Shosh and Amos. "To have been here for Jerman during this major test has been a humbling experience, and we hope that he and the State of Israel will never have to undergo such an ordeal again."
The Jewish Agency recently held a number of festive evenings to honor its thousands of Babait Beyahad volunteers. Efforts continue to raise funds to expand the program, whose impact resonates deep within Israeli society.