Back home in Ithaca NY I can finally bring myself to wrap it up and reflect on my journey to Lesvos. I have been asked to tell my story by the community, friends and family. Some are proud of my volunteer work, some are curious about it and some question the entire thing.
[Volenteers husband and wife from Switzerlan]
For my part, I am curious about what people are expecting to hear or what people are ready to hear. It is not a usual humanitarian crisis (as much as humanitarian crisis could possibly be usual if at all). This is a crisis with global political, cultural and even religious aspects. Mass immigration and unknown implications are scary for ordinary people in the countries even as they offer new homes.
There are prejudiced opinions about Arabs and the Muslim world. And of course there is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and or Jewish-Arabs conflict in the air when we discuss the Middle East. Even during my stay I was asked to comment about an antisemitic incident in the refugee camps at Lesvos that was widely reported in Lesvos but I could not comment and didn’t.
I came to Lesvos with an Israeli NGO, I came as an Israeli, I came as a Jewish person, but I left as simply as a human that cares. When I arrived I was worried how I would be accepted and fit in as an Israeli helping Syrians. In the end I left with many new friends; friends from Germany, Spain, Greece, England, Norway, Sweden, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Arab Israelis from my country.
[Volenteers from Canada, Israel, Egypt and Greece]
So many volunteers from all over. When there are as many volunteers as refugees, you realize how humanity cares and that is the dominant feeling. We are all in this together. I still find it hard to tell the story of the refugees. I have seen so many faces and such pain every day.
I am not medic and not a doctor but I carried, I waded out in the sea, I held IVs and I wrapped people with foil when they were cold. I carried babies and hugged mothers and comfort those who lost and those in shock. I helped children to change clothes and put a smile on their faces.
[ Doctor from "Doctors Without Boarders" joined the IsraAid team]
I wanted to ask the refugees how they arrived on the shores of Europe, what made them flee? I saw the fear and sadness on their faces but also the pride and their respect for the country they have left behind.
[ This raft carried over 50 men, women, children and babies]
There were two incidents where I felt the hostility, but these were minor and insignificant compare to all the love and welcoming I felt by all including the refugees who were nothing but immensely grateful to whoever helped them. There is something about helping others in need that peels off the sense of self and ego.
Humanitarian aid is not about where you are coming from, it is not about what language you speak or even your attitude. It is all about helping others that have been caught up in life-threating situations with no ability to sustain normal life. At times it is physical attack, other times it is the lack of food, places to sleep, clothes, medicine and basic conditions.
[ Children from Syria draw pictures at Platanous a refugee camp]
If anyone asks me why I help Syrians or Arabs I say simply because that is what caring humans do when they see others in danger, and in need and I am proud to be privileged enough to give back. A person at the refugee camp asked me "What Israelis are doing here?" And I told him "We are here to rescue the enemy". He could not stop laughing and he said to me “Mazal Tov” (congratulations in Hebrew). That was my small win, just to touch someone’s heart, to move past the propaganda, person to person. I am from the Middle East and so is he. Together we can build a better future for our children.