TEL AVIV, Israel (WHTM) — Felix Thau and Martin Brill knew this trip to Israel would be different, once they got there, from others they’ve taken in the past.
But — Brill said from Tel Aviv over the weekend, during a short break between six-day weeks volunteering at an Army base in nearby Tel HaShomer — the differences started before they landed. He showed a photo the men took from the window of their flight, on approach to Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.
“Usually the approach would be much lower and over the central part of the country, over Tel Aviv,” Brill said.
This time? A steep descent, and from the north; the war, after all, is in the south.
Then there’s everything on the ground they were prepared for plus the things nothing could have prepared them for, like the countless teddy bears — blindfolded and with red blood-like splotches — in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square with photos of young hostages, each bear representing one of the young hostages.
Another photo showed a woman lying face down in the shoulder of a roadway. Brill explained that’s what people are supposed to do when air raid alerts blare on specialized mobile phone apps if they’re somewhere — like in a car — where they can’t get to a safe room of a building within 90 seconds.
What are Thau and Brill doing on the base? Start with what they’re not doing:
“We’re not doing anything with military weapons — anything like that,” Brill said.
Much of the work, he said, focuses on civilian medical support — packing forceps to be sent to where they’re needed, for example.
Military bases don’t tend to be fancy places, and that’s particularly true of this one, Brill said.
“We’re in the oldest part of the oldest base, and it’s kind of rundown,” Brill said, emphasizing that’s not a complaint — after all, the men volunteered to do this — but rather a description “just to give you a sense of the five-star hotel we’re staying at,” he joked. There are two toilets for 24 men in the two-floor barracks where he’s staying — men on the ground floor, women on the second floor.
Volunteers come from all over the world, Brill said, recalling a group — some Jewish, some not — from Colombia.
Another of Brill’s photos showed an empty beach in Tel Aviv — no sunbathers — on a warm, sunny day.
Brill said many businesses are closed, largely because so many reservists have been called up to active duty that staffing is thin.
But in Tel Aviv, when they would find one open, “in a restaurant or wherever we are, we’ll tell them we’re volunteers from the United States to help on a base where we can, packing medical supplies,” Brill said. “And people are very appreciative of that.”