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Crisscrossing the nation

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

Many have been relocated without their means of transportation. For them, this service is essential.

Eli Lederhendler, interviewed November 1, 2023 By Holly Kemph

Eli, an emeritus professor of contemporary Jewish history from the Hebrew University, has been volunteering on the transportation team for two weeks. The transportation team coordinates available drivers willing to take passengers and supplies to destinations in Jerusalem, or from Jerusalem to all parts of the country.

The work is done through spreadsheets, with requests logged in or services volunteered on-line by members of the public. Some requests or offers of help are fielded by telephone. The team members put together drivers with riders—often soldiers going to and from front-line bases—but also civilians who have been relocated. It’s a feeling of being in a control tower, directing transit in and out of Jerusalem.

Donations of meals have to be distributed to relocated families in the area. There are also other personal requests—a boy from the south of the country, evacuated with his family to a hotel in Jerusalem, missed his dog, and the team organized a driver to bring his dog to his hotel from the foster home where it was being cared for temporarily. An elderly couple needed to go to the doctor and needed someone to drive them and wait for them during the appointment.

The team is tasked with arranging transport for donated cartons of medical or household equipment, to and from the command center storeroom, which serves as a depot. There are other heartwarming and amazing stories, such as a volunteer driver who flew in from the United States after the war started, rented a car, and got in touch, offering to take on whatever driving missions needed doing. Most other people working on the transportation team are students in their early twenties—young Israelis who are not in uniform and are out volunteering. They have three shifts a day: morning, evening, and night.

“Personally, during the first two weeks, I was in shock,” says Eli. “I was sitting there, shifting between news reports and trying to keep myself busy. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything. I thought, There must be something I can do? I felt this heavy emotional load of what this country is going through, and the feeling of not helping just made the burden heavier. Being a retiree means I have more time on my hands.” When he came to offer his help, he was attached to the transportation team.

Sitting here in the command center is important, but even more important are those volunteering to drive. They feel they want to be personally involved and to give a helping hand. In normal times, for example, soldiers are often given home leave in large groups, and the army deals with providing bus transportation. But now, with the soldiers mobilized at the front, everything is more chaotic, and there are lots of individual soldiers going home for just twenty-four hours who need to get back quickly. This situation, with one, two, or three people at a time needing transit, is not something that peacetime arrangements can cope with. That’s why soldiers need drivers to give them rides, which can’t be done without volunteers.

The emergency has affected the daily lives of lots of people. Many have been relocated without their means of transportation. For them, this service is essential, but not something the government is set up to provide. Everyone realizes this and is helping out.

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