By Linda Gradstein
As soon as the war in Israel began, Ariav Schlesinger, 31, was called to reserve duty. An officer in the Rabbanut, Schlesinger had spent his previous reserve duty stints teaching soldiers the halacha (Jewish law) for identifying dead soldiers and handling bodies, and he thought this time it would be the same.
He said he was told that he would never deal with actual dead bodies.
“I was never supposed to actually deal with corpses myself,” Schlesinger, who lived in Silver Spring until 5th grade, told the Washington Jewish Week. “I was told that I was going in to train reservists. But when I got there, I saw crates and crates of bodies and I realized I was in the heart of the real operation.”
He said that his reserve service has been emotionally draining but he feels he is making an important contribution.
“I’ve seen how the halacha of Kavod Hamet [respect for the dead] is embedded into the army system,” Schlesinger said. “You have crates and crates of bodies and one of the jobs is to move them. When you have this many bodies, they could be just another piece of luggage. But the halacha demands that you use several people to transfer each body, and all of us are following it to the best of our ability.”
There are an estimated 200,000 dual U.S.-Israeli citizens living in Israel, although it’s not clear how many of them are from the D.C. area.
Barry and Mindy Spielman, who lived in Washington from 1983 to 1988, today live in Oranit, which is a Yishuv on the Green Line between Israel and the West Bank. Their youngest son, Yadin, is a naval lieutenant and the chief engineer on one of the missile ships that is “involved in the action,” Barry Spielman said.
His older son is involved with electro-optics for tanks, and his son-in-law, who was in Europe when the war broke out, is in a decision-making capacity. His daughter, who served in an intelligence unit, has not been called up, but has several close friends who were at the Nova music festival. One was found dead after several days, and others were among the approximately 200 kidnapped by Hamas.
Spielman made aliyah in 1988, and three months later he was in the army. For seven years, he served in the IDF spokesman’s office running public affairs for joint exercises with the U.S. military, leaving the army as a Lieutenant Colonel. He said this is the first military conflict that he has not been in the reserves for, although he did call and volunteer.
For the past 25 years, he has worked in the high-tech industry and is currently a Product Marketing Director for a large software company. Mindy works as a Product Specialist for a large international dental implants company.
He says President Biden’s support and his visit to Israel send an important message.
“What he’s been saying is incredible,” Spielman said. “The fact that the Americans sent two aircraft carriers means they are more or less saying that if Lebanon attacks you, we will get involved. We heard President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Austin in the last few days, and the support they are giving us is strategically important.”
He said that while he is always proud to be an Israeli, “these days I’m proud to be an American too.”
Other ex-Washingtonians are finding different ways to help. Judy Kleinman, who lived in D.C. from 1982 to 1988, and her husband, Phil Klipstein, live in the pastoral town of Zichron Yaakov, which has so far been immune from rocket fire. The homes in Zichron are relatively large, and Kleinman has a separate guest unit in her home that she is now giving to families who have been evacuated from either the south or the north.
Last week, she hosted a family of seven from Ashkelon, including a grandmother and a two-week-old baby. Currently, she is hosting a family of five from Kiryat Shmona.
The entire community has joined the effort to host 150 refugee families. The local community center is filled with donated games and toys for the families. Kleinman’s daughter, Hanit, 20, is volunteering as a coordinator connecting the host families with the displaced families. The community center is also running activities and programs to keep the kids busy.
“When the mother of the family arrived, the first thing she said to me was, “I feel like I can breathe now,” Kleinman said. “It is just a tiny thing we can do and shows how the community has come together.”
Linda Gradstein is a freelance writer.