This blog is written by my neighbor, Carolyn Laroche. After hearing about her volunteer work in Israel I knew she had a story to tell—a book, actually. I encouraged her to tell a little about her work for our condo newsletter. I then decided to share it on my blog with her permission. She made her first trip in 2006, one-and-half years after her husband, Gerry’s, death. She has returned every year since. Carolyn is 79 years old.
2006 – During my first six weeks, 30 of us from around the world were bused every day to different towns. We sang and played Israeli and religious songs in town squares, handed out reading material, answered questions and chatted with the folks.
The following week, a friend from Peru and I stayed in the Old City. One afternoon as I waited for the hotel clerk to buzz me in, two Arab men grabbed my arm as I started to open the door. At that moment, the clerk ran down the stairs and the men ran away. WHEW!
The last three weeks that year I lived and worked in Jerusalem with HofM, an organization that helps soldiers and citizens wounded during the 2004-05 war. Much time was spent visiting them in hospitals and homes. I have been with HofM ever since.
2007 – Seven of us ages 20-70 lived on the third floor of a large apartment building—with no elevator!—outside of Jerusalem. One afternoon at the HofM office, we heard shouts from the hallway and outside. The radio just announced that the Arab bus driver for a large Yeshiva (boys’ school) had entered a classroom and started shooting. An IDF soldier living next door heard the shooting, grabbed his gun, saw the man’s shadow, ran next door and shot and killed the driver. Over 35 boys were wounded, seven killed, ages 13-18. The HofM director and I were allowed to visit the seven families – what heroes!! I was never the same after that.
2008-2016 – S’derot, a southern warfront city located a kilometer from Gaza, was where over 400,000 rockets had landed from radical terrorist groups in the past several years. The city is replete with poverty and traumatized children and adults, thus HofM decided to relocate to the most impoverished and needy city in Israel (which was no longer Jerusalem). HofM rented a house overgrown with weeds and garbage. Greeted with a rocket alert as we drove into S’derot loaded with boxes, suitcases, etc., we rushed into a doorway where people huddled together waiting for the rocket to fall. It never did. With the “all clear” signal, we went to the “new” office.
At midnight, exhausted, Beth (a volunteer) and I found a blanket and space on the floor. We had just fallen asleep when a tail and tiny feet ran down my face. I screamed, turned on the light and saw a cute mouse sitting across the hall looking at me. We chased it out and slept on a table.
Four hours later Beth screamed. The whole place smelled of gas. We pushed open the windows and the front door. The culprit? No one accepted responsibility, but we found that the lever on the gas stove was pushed on, but not pushed off. It wasn’t me!
The next day while sorting give-away clothes, a young teen girl walked in and started to help. I knew no Hebrew; she knew no English or French. After a while we became tired of sorting and got silly. We started chasing each other around the large table. Later her mom called her home to eat and she left.
Her father rushed over the next day “What did you do to my daughter? Since two years of rockets, my daughter has not smiled, laughed, sang or talked. She came home yesterday doing all of the above. This is a miracle!” P.S. This year she graduated from high school with honors.
My favorite soldier, Joseph, a Christian Arab, was wounded in 2006. I spent much time with him in the hospital and at home; he ultimately succumbed to complications. His mom requested that I sit beside her at the funeral. Many tears!
One day, a rocket landed by a bus stop three doors away from HofM. No one was injured, but I found a friend hiding and crying in the bus shelter and took her home. Two years previously, a rocket landed in her yard while she was showering. The force of it threw her from the bathroom down the stairs. She was still traumatized – now this!
HofM uses dozens of clothes racks for hundreds of donated clothes available at no charge to poor people. We are one block from the open market and some days as many as 100 people stop by.
Thanks to a company in Australia, once a month we have “diaper parties,” where diapers for infants to adults are given away. What a life-saver these are to so many! We also give dry food items to those in need once a week. On school days we prepare and deliver 300 sandwiches for elementary children too poor to afford breakfast, let alone lunch. We prepare war survival boxes which will keep a family of five alive for two weeks. They include dry food, utensils, hygiene items, games and books, which can be kept in the bomb shelters. We distribute them in S’derot, and to poor families, synagogues, nursing homes, throughout the country.
Monthly we visit families that are sent money through our adoption program, to monitor their progress. We do weekly home visits to Holocaust survivors, and hospital visits to children, where we give hugs and hand out toys and treats. Twin lambs used for children’s therapy were in my care. My shorthand, fast keyboard skills and editing come in handy for office work.
I must mention my three-month stay in a tree house. Hair and face were washed in cold water on the front porch. Bathing was done from a small bucket inside. The toilet was three steps from a tiny back porch door that faced a park. Clothes were washed by hand and hung on a rope for all to see. Health allowing, I plan to continue my trips.