This One's for Matan & ALL Soldiers of Israel (including you!)

Private Matan Ar'ye Schwartz of the Foreign Relations Branch, IDF Ground Forces, wrote this letter to his family's congregation in America. Please read it to the end, it's very powerful. Kol haKavod, Ar'ye~

Hello Temple Or-Elokim!

I'm writing this to you from Israel...I'm sure you've been seeing a lot of us on the television recently...the situation has certainly tense.

For those of you who don't know me, my name's Matt (or Matan if you know me from Israel). Many of you know my family (my parents Fran and Marvin, and my two brothers, Dave and Sam). I made Aliyah to Israel a year ago to live my dream and do my part to help build the Jewish state. This past December 27th was my one year anniversary of Aliyah, the date I landed in Israel to start a new life. Keep that date in the back of your head.

Presently, I'm serving as a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) and Linguist for the Foreign Relations Branch of the IDF Ground Forces. What I'm going to talk to you about tonight isn't approved by the IDF, it doesn't contain any top secret information, and most of it doesn't have to do with the army at all. What I'm going to talk to you about tonight is my reality, as I've experienced it.

I started my basic training in August of 2008 and completed it in November of 2008. I was then assigned as a non-combat soldier (due to my academic background and personal preferences) to the Foreign Relations branch of the IDF Ground Forces. While combat soldiers receive the respect and glory that comes with the hard work they do, I wanted to give back in the best way I could and while I can fire a gun, I much prefer to choose a pen as my weapon...and I was fortunate enough to be afforded that opportunity.

Recently, I moved to a Kibbutz that was kind enough to adopt me as a Lonely Soldier (a soldier who has no family in the country). This Kibbutz like all Kibbutzim in Israel, has made the land grow...lush grass is breathe in and your chest just fills with an overwhelming pride of what we've been able to accomplish in the desert...agriculture and animals and families with young children are everywhere, the Kibbutz - even in tough economic times - is thriving.

As is my usual weekend routine when returning to the Kibbutz on Thursdays (I don't go to base on Fridays or Saturdays), I went food shopping, I dropped off my uniform to have it washed and pressed for the coming week, I waved to the cows hanging out in the refet (cow shed) and I had lunch and dinner in the dining hall with friends before I settled down for a weekend of what I thought was going to be rest and relaxation.

On December 27, 2008, the day where I was celebrating my first year in Israel I was brought out of my room at 11:30am with the sounds of bombs dropping.

The Kibbutz that I live on is called Kibbutz Zikim. Kibbutz Zikim is two miles from the Gaza City...for Chanukah, they have one of the largest menorah's I've ever see it, standing defiantly, at their front gate when you come home. This Menorah is like no other menorah in the's been hand made out of collected Ketusha rockets.

Since my second week on the Kibbutz I had began to get used to hearing "Tseva Adom, Tseva Adom, Tseva Adom" (which literally means "Red Paint" but is our version of "Red Alert")...blasting from speakers in the area.

From the moment you hear the first "Tseva Adom" you have 15 seconds to run to a shelter...and you start to count down as you move, quick as lightning, to the safest area near you...your heart pounding in your isn't's don't have time to be barely have time to react...and you pray as you run that you'll be near a shelter, your eyes darting around you to assess in a split instant what might stop a qassam from landing on you if death has your number,breathing becomes an afterthought...and then you feel the earth shake -- let out a nervous survived again...and you take out your cell phone and call your friends, trying to make sure that they did too...eventually, as I would learn, you just stop running.

As I heard the bombs dropping I was worried that our alert system failed us - why weren't our sirens going off? I ran back into my room to pull up a news site to figure out what was going on, when I saw the headlines that the Israeli Air Force was finally taking action against Hamas who has taken over the Gaza phone began to ring, a friend of mine was telling me to get to the first shelter I could find and to stay was going to be a long day.

All day and through the night Tseva Adom could be heard, crackling from speakers breaking the stillness of the air. My room shook, my windows flexed...thankfully, my Kibbutz was not hit.

I have said that I was getting used to the Red Alerts...and it's one day alone Hamas had fired 60 rockets into Israel. Their barrage of attacks after the expired truce (and, even during it) is what prompted the IDF to act in the first place.

And for a few days I stayed away from the Kibbutz. My commanding officers and fellow soldiers letting me know I could stay at their houses if I needed to, some begging me not to return to the Kibbutz, to rethink my decision to live there (after all, I may be a Jobnick, but I'm a Jobnick who's job it is to use his head, which requires that my head remain firmly attached to the rest of my body) and so I had ventured back and forth between Tel Aviv, my Base, and my Kibbutz as I let the adrenaline seep out of my body I tried to figure out where I stood on the issues...and when you're running to shelters constantly your body goes into protection mode " running...make it in the door...ten seconds left...nine seconds..." and sometimes it takes a little bit of Shabbat to figure out what the right thing to do is. That's one of my favorite things about Judaism, is that it's never too late to make the right choice.

Right now, there are countless soldiers braver than I am standing guard at Gaza, waiting for word from their commanders to put their boots on the ground. These are my boys...these are the soldiers that my base - the Ground Forces base - are responsible for. I have said that this isn't endorsed by the IDF, and that's true...but as a soldier in the Foreign Relations branch of the IDF Ground Forces - and make no mistake, no war has ever been won without putting boots on the ground - who has friends sitting in tanks right now waiting for the word, I think it behooves me to do a little foreign relations:

I want you to become soldiers for Israel.

Now, I know that making Aliyah and joining the IDF might not be your thing (though there are volunteer programs for that if you really want to), there's a lot you can do right now for Israel...and we need, more than ever!

So what can you do for Israel?

If you've just finished High School, or need a semester away from College or have just graduated college and need some time to clear your head, come and volunteer - whether with the IDF, the Magan David Adom, as a Fire Fighter or on a Kibbutz -link don't worry training and Hebrew classes are free - you'll learn how to save lives, you'll help build the land, you'll make life bloom in the desert while working side by side with people from all over the world. Housing and food stipends come standard with every program.

For those of you who don't have the luxury to pick up everything and come for a few months, then come and visit us for a couple of weeks (yes... right now...there's no better time!).

Come and visit and see the beautiful ancient walls of Jerusalem and pray at the Kotel (speaking as a soldier, we really, really appreciate your prayers! And what better place to do it than in Jerusalem?), come bathe in the natural springs and cool off at our wonderful ocean resorts.

Enjoy the finest coffee the middle east has to offer and dance the night away in our nightclubs - Tel Aviv, the city where the party, literally, never stops! Shop for some art in Zichron Ya'akov at the artist colony and enjoy fresh milk from our country's refets (Israel, where we have holy cows!).

Come visit us, we're your country too!

For those of you who do the Sunday crossword puzzle in pen (you know who you are...yes, you) start writing! Write very day to your editor. We need your voice. Ask them why it's Israel's responsibility to treat Hamas terrorists in our hospitals (we did, recently, to one who had a 'work related' incident), ask them why when the Palestinians share borders with Egypt and Jordan it's Israels responsibility to take care of them...ask them why we should be providing them with food, money, gasoline, and Jewish doctors while they're bombing our civilian centers, and ask them why we should consider them partners for peace when they seek our total destruction, their vision of "liberating" Palestine includes all of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and every other city from the north to the south of Israel where Jews live. Ask them why they surround themselves with children and store rockets and bomb making materials near or under schools and use their men, women, and children as human shields.

Ask them every question that should be burning in your chest when you watch this current media circus.

For those who are good with computers...start blogging...start emailing...start YouTubing and twittering...counter every thing you hear with facts, don't back down, don't give an inch!

This current operation in Gaza is about changing the equation, about setting our own terms...and like anything, it's a state of yes, it's been a little bit scary here recently...but it's our choice as to whether or not we're going to give into us set the tone, but please - whether you write your editor or start thinking about visiting - don't be quiet...don't forget us...we need your voices...because I'm almost hoarse...and we need to know that you have our backs...because while we get to sleep at home tonight there are IDF soldiers in the rain that falls this time of year in the south who are far away from their homes and there are parents who don't know if their children are going to be coming home again and it's the least we can do!

In Israel, when a bomb goes off we go outside...when a terrorist blows up a cafe, we go out for coffee and though I was caught up in a state of Israel you're told two things "look around, and look up" and so I looked around and knew what I had to do to do the right thing and I'm looking up and forward, towards the future...and I can tell you that I'll be sleeping in my room on the Kibbutz come Sunday night.

I'll be in Jerusalem, our holy city, for Shabbat this weekend...dancing with Breslovs, walking the ramparts of our old city walls, and putting a note in the wall for's if you need to say anything to the big guy upstairs, there's a blank piece of paper in the wall waiting for you to write your hopes and wishes on it.

But please don't forget us...we need you, I need you to raise your voices!

Acharai! (after me!),

Private Matan Ar'ye Schwartz
Foreign Relations Branch, IDF Ground Forces

A look at Tzeva Adom - video - "15 Seconds"

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