The Ethiopian-Israelis who are just beginning their lives in modern Israel and residing at The Jewish Agency’s Nurit Absorption Center know full well that IDF soldiers are protecting them – but most have never met an IDF soldier before.
Over the last several weeks, staff at the Absorption Center have found that one way to reduce the mysteries of Operation Protective Edge for the new immigrants, and to reduce their levels of fear and stress, has been to introduce the immigrants to the soldiers who are protecting them, specifically the ones who operate the “Iron Dome.”
Asher Vaknin, the director of the Absorption Center, explained that the immigrants’ visit to the soldiers served multiple purposes. “It was a chance for them to show their solidarity with, and appreciation for, the soldiers,” he said. “They had, on their own, volunteered to collect money between themselves to buy gifts for the soldiers. But it was also a chance for the IDF and the Iron Dome to become less of a mysterious concept and more of a tangible reality. Many of them have not been in Israel long and have barely left the Absorption Center yet. To go to see with their own eyes the soldiers who are protecting them was very emotional for them – and the soldiers were also moved.”
In preparation for their visit, the Absorption Center staff ordered matching T-shirts and buses, and the children, teens, and parents went to bring gifts to the soldiers, ones they had purchased with their own precious funds. They also brought gifts of toiletry baskets from Jewish Agency staff and from the Worker’s Association of The Jewish Agency, and ice cream to distribute to the soldiers.
“Everyone was very excited and emotional,” Vaknin says. “The soldiers all wanted to have their pictures taken with these immigrants who were so supportive of them. It was a great display of solidarity, as well as a way to reduce fear.”
Vaknin explained that, in general, the Absorption Center is going to great efforts to help the immigrants, especially the children, cope with their fears. “We have respite activities all the time,” he said, “a variety of music activities, story hours . . . part of a comprehensive program aimed at reducing fear. The ‘Mishabim’ (‘Resources’) organization sends us performers, people who are experienced at getting children to talk, who listen to their problems, and the children respond well and participate. They ask the children ‘what do you do when you are afraid? What can we do when we are frightened?’ and the children have good answers – they are coping with it.”
Vaknin said that before Operation Protective Edge started, the Nurit Absorption Center ran drills to teach the new immigrants what to do when the air-raid siren goes off. “We have two bomb shelters,” he said. “So we divided the immigrants into two groups, and assigned people who are in charge of helping the elderly and those who are disabled, who are unable to run. We taught each family where to run when the siren goes off – everyone knows exactly where to go. Twice we had members here of the Home Guard, who gave presentations in Amharic about wartime safety. Both the adults and the children are well-trained.”
“The engagement and involvement of the immigrants, and the support of the staff, are proof to everyone here that no one is alone.”