She is only 13 and entering 8th grade, but Elinor Izun will soon be like her older brother Elior, head of the youth council in Ashkelon, running volunteer initiatives all on her own, planting seeds of hope and strength among the city’s youths. Lately, she loves dancing, singing, and of course hiking, but today, she’s already used to communal work in Ashkelon.
As a member of the municipal youth council and her school's student council – she has spent the past few weeks volunteering nonstop. It’s a value that she’s learned from her home, from her older brother about to begin his army service, and her mother Hodaya who volunteered to chaperone several groups of children from Ashkelon for a day of respite activities throughout the country during wartime.
In these difficult times, we’re turning to Elinor for some inspiration: How does she cope with the situation?
“Despite the sirens, I remind myself constantly that we have survived all the past wars and that we shall pass this too. Also, I go out with my girlfriends, and spend time with my mother, helping her around the house. I spent much of my time on hikes and respite activities so that I didn’t have to be in Ashkelon as much; I’m personally not afraid of the situation, but yes, there were moments when I got terrified. I overcame it, mustered up the courage, and then decided that instead of being stuck at home and climbing the walls there, I would go out with my mother and siblings.”
Today, three buses full of children left Ashkelon, including Elinor and her little brother, leaving for a day of fun in Kiftzuba Amusement Park. Many of the parents who went along told me that it’s an opportunity to leave the house and have fun with the kids – a rare opportunity, these days. Respite activities for children of southern Israel is happening thanks to support from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and UIA-Keren Hayesod. Throughout Operation Protective Edge thus far, about 70,000 children from southern Israel participated in day trips out of the line of fire.
Elinor’s older brother was expected to start his army service in the past few weeks, but his draft time was delayed because of the emergency situation. Elior, head of the youth council of Ashkelon, volunteers in the municipal war room throughout the war, and helped to organize volunteer youth groups for public bomb shelters.
“As a representative of the Youth Council, I came to volunteer, like my brother, and have volunteered throughout the war,” Elinor says proudly. “I came to help the gardeners in the parks, in the bomb shelters and in the Council itself, I went to volunteer in the Chutzot shopping mall in Ashkelon to hand out discounted movie tickets and bowling passes, along with other teen volunteers. It keeps me busy and never bored. Kids from the north and all over Israel have come to volunteer in Ashkelon – just as many have left the city, staying in Tiberias, Eilat, even outside of Israel, just to not be in the line of fire. Whoever volunteers from the Youth Council receives a gift and opportunity to go to Ein Gedi, and to Tel Aviv for next weekend.”
“Every day on average, there are 8-10 rockets, even in the nighttime,” Elinor’s mother Hodaya Izun tells. “This is already my fifth time in the last month joining buses that leave Ashkelon for respite activities. I volunteer as a chaperone, to help but also to take my children along and away from home.”
“I dream of becoming something big one day,” says Elinor with a determined smile. “Perhaps a flight attendant.”
Elinor’s spirit of giving, undoubtedly, comes from home. Hodaya, her mother, tells of her own commitment to giving: “Throughout the war, I organized meals for IDF soldiers: couscous, meat, salads, drinks, cookies, fruits, vegetables – whatever I could do. I have a group that I study with, and two other women helped me, and we sent everything to the Givati Brigade under fire.”
Despite the brief ceasefire, and despite the courage the Izun family shows, the concerns are very much alive. “We are tense all the time. Every boom, every loud noise, we are afraid, we jump and ask right away, ‘What’s that noise’. Like yesterday we went to the beach, and there was barely anyone there. We heard some airplanes overhead and we picked up and went home. We hope that our soldiers will come home in peace, and that God watches over Israel and the south, and that we should always be united.”