Berkshire Jewish Voices From Israel: A Seed Was Planted

In the aftermath of Oct. 7, Roy Kozupsky of Stockbridge donated to aid organizations addressing the crisis in Israel, yet he felt “the act of giving money left me somewhat unfulfilled and pondering how I might do more. A seed was planted.”

An attorney who has both lived in Israel and visited many times over the last 40 years, asked his wife Leslie (formerly Federation’s development officer), whether she would be okay with his volunteering in Israel. “I explained to her that it was painful for me to be a bystander to these unfolding events,” he writes. “There are times in life where you can talk all you want about the ills of the world until the sun sets, but at the end of the day sometimes one must act firsthand. Fortunately, Leslie replied, ‘You should go.’”

He applied for a role with Sar-El, a program that gives volunteers “an opportunity to live and work besides Israeli soldiers and gain an insider view of Israel.” On December 28, Roy flew to Israel and found he had been assigned to the Hatzerim air force base in the Negev, two hours from Ben Gurion Airport. Here are some edited excerpts from a diary of his experiences that he shared with friends and family. You can read more of Roy's reflections about Israel by clicking here


Upon arriving, we were reminded that we are indeed in a war zone. So, of course, the first thing they alerted us to is where the bombs shelters are if air raid sirens should go off. Nonchalantly, they mentioned that you have only 60 seconds to get into a shelter.

At the base we (about 100 or so volunteers) were assigned to a large warehouse- established for logistical supplies and food distribution. Our job was to pack a large box (about 3’x 3’) with food for the soldiers on the front lines – breakfast, lunch and some snacks. or 2 soldiers for 2 days.

We worked 7 hours a day and every movement was choreographed on a long assembly line. All in all, I estimate that in one box contains over 24 different items – staples like coffee, tea, sugar, chips, freeze dried high- protein soup, cans of tuna and olives, chocolate – requiring 100 focused people working together. The mood on the packing line was indeed jovial at times and the time can pass quite quickly especially if, like me, you are surrounded by a group of Australian volunteers. It takes about 35 people behind the lines in some support capacity to support each Israeli trooper on the front lines. Think about the math of that for a moment! Once finished these boxes are sealed and stacked, they have to be hauled away to another distribution center to be combined with the actual meals, and then shipped to the front.

On the base you actually get little news of the war or the outside world unless you decide to go online in the evening during some free time to get a pulse of the news. One night, for instance, we did not know of all the rocket attacks in Tel Aviv and I only learned of the event from text from my daughter, Rachel. I had been told to be prepared for many sleepless nights as an air force base is loud at all times during the night. We slept in big tents about 20 miles south of the base, literally in the middle of the desert, where it gets cold at night. So many reservists have been called up for this war that the base itself is overflowing and cannot accommodate all of the young men and women who have joined combat units.

All night long, the fighter jets took off and landed – the noise is thunderous. I won’t say it was as bad as other volunteers’ snoring, but the cacophony was enough to deprive one of a good night’s sleep – which, I soon learned, could only be achieved by using the newest Apple ear buds-full throttle on the noise cancellation setting, with listening to the Grateful Dead in the background. Food was good, but I had no chance of remaining a vegetarian.

Nationalities include South Africa, Australia, Poland, France, Germany, UK, New Zealand. I estimate that up to 30% were NOT Jewish, just very aligned with Israel and its values. All come from very diverse backgrounds and cultures, but there are some common denominators. Those who were re Jewish are Zionists. All volunteers believe not only in Israel as a country that needs safe borders – they believe that the Jewish Diaspora can’t exist without a strong Israel. There is no question in their minds as to the color of evil. It has no shades of gray. And maybe most importantly all have family histories, like my own, replete with ancestors (parents and grandparents) who endured painful lives just because they were Jewish. Everyone here knows how apathetic and even hostile the world was to our ancestors.

They simply wanted to contribute to the State of Israel in some way. We really don’t know if the 10,728 boxes of food that we put together and packed for the troops is a lot or little in the scheme of things. But the soldiers (and their commander) we met have assured us that our work is important, and they are indeed grateful for our contribution.

So why did the 40 percent of the group who were not Jewish come to Israel to help? Maybe like me they see the war in epic historical terms that will likely impact all of us outside the boundaries of the Middle East. They recognized that hatred can metastasize quickly, even in democratic countries, when societies are complacent. But let me share this - at our last group dinner together, every Jew in the room and all the IDF soldiers stood up, applauded, and thanked every non-Jewish volunteer who chose to come from far-away places to help Israel. The applause, which lasted a  good 5 minutes, was tear jerking and thunderous. We all bonded working together over the past 5 days but right, in a dirty large tent, our souls were now glued together.

Israel does have friends. And it’s a two-way street – we helped the country and in doing so, we helped our souls.


[After serving for 5 days in the desert, Roy transferred to Tel Hashomer military base outside Ramat Gan]

In Tel Hashomer, our group was tasked with helping process, clean, and then redeploy for distribution to the front lines an enormous number of pants, parkas, and sleeping bags for the young men and women fighting on the front lines.

Probably overlooked by many who have not served in the armed forces and been in actual conflict is the fact that clothes and sleeping bags get filthy. It was winter in Israel and even in the south there were occasional downpours creating muddy territory where fighting is taking place.

The complexity of cleaning these items is unfathomable, especially when one considers the number of reservists who have come back to Israel to be deployed to the front lines in the north and south. Thousands of dirty garments and sleeping bags, arrive each evening from around the country which then go right into enormous washing machines and then into large dryers. They are refolded, bound (and in the case of sleeping bags - with a handwritten note of thanks to the troops) and then taken back to the front lines! In our last two days, we processed about 3,000 pants, 1,000 parkas, and another 600 bags.

 Interestingly, many of these parkas had not been used since their initial purchase in 2001! And this is where volunteers come in. Usually, the army would do this job-but now everyone is serving in other military capacities and there is little excess capacity in the system to do such seemingly menial tasks. This is what it takes to wage a war. The logistics are mind boggling. Everyone in our group feels privileged to help in some way. All efforts count-even helping clean dirty sleeping bags – and when I say dirty, I mean filthy. If, after a day’s work in the laundry, I had to go through passport control at any airport, I am quite sure they would have turned me straight around due to some environmental concern.


The events in Israel in 2023, culminating in the massacre on October 7th, will forever impact how Jews in America think. One might say no big deal as our thoughts and ideas are always evolving and indeed, our sages say that is something to aspire to. But I am talking about one’s moral and political compass – how we go about navigating and thinking through our emotions, rationalizations and decisions when dealing with epic issues in life. My sense is that the year 2023 in Israel was and continues to be a worldwide transformative event. I suspect our individual compasses will need some recalibration, as well.