Stepping Up: Stories of Hope from Israel’s Civilian Frontlines part III
Jacky Romano met the love of her life fresh out of school. Straight after matriculating, she joined her Habonim chevra on a gap-year program in Israel, living and working on a Kibbutz. Here she met Avram, an Egyptian Jew who, smuggled out of his birth country as a baby, had grown up in Israel as an orphan. Against all odds, their paths led them to each other at Kibbutz Tzora. Surprising everyone (even themselves), at the end of her gap year, unable to be parted, he flew back with her to South Africa where they got married, had children, and lived for 50 years.
Jacky had never imagined herself living in Israel. It was only when her sister passed away and her grown children began making Aliyah, that she and Avram decided to return here, her rather reluctantly. Unfortunately, he passed away only two years later, leaving her at a loss. She kept herself busy teaching English, first at schools, and then privately, and giving talks on eye care (she was an ophthalmic practitioner in South Africa). She was living in Israel, but she was not Israeli.
Then came October 7th and everything about her relationship to the country changed. Like many others, she was desperate to do something to help but felt that no one would be interested in a 70-something-year-old woman. Then she heard about Sar-El, an organisation that brings volunteers from around the world to assist the IDF. They were only too happy to have her on board and thus began her quasi-military career.
Volunteers from Sar-El go onto army bases and take over administrative and manual functions to free up the soldiers for combat service. Jacky operates as a full member of the base, wearing a uniform and reporting to on-site officers. She lives on base for her week-long shifts, eating, sleeping, and showering with the soldiers. She does a one-week on/ one-week off rota unless she is required to stay on base for longer – she has at times stayed for a two-week shift. On her weeks off she does one or two day shifts. She has worked at bases around Israel – from Haifa and Tel Hashomer to Beersheba and the Negev.
With over seventy trips around the sun under her belt, Jacky remains as energetic and strong as any volunteer. She does a lot of manual work, packing medical supplies and food packages to be sent to the front line. “Whatever my strength will allow me to do I will do”, she says. “That’s incredible,” I say to her, in awe of her passion and commitment. “It’s not,” she replies “It’s giving. And this is my way of showing appreciation to my little boys and girls keeping me alive. It’s my way of saying thank you.”
And this is where you see the magic happening. Jacky has transformed from a reluctant Olah to a committed and fiercely patriotic Israeli. These are her people, and there is nothing she wouldn’t do to help them. “I am your imma tonight,” she tells a young soldier crying for her mother as sirens blared and the sounds of rockets being intercepted filled the air. She holds her and comforts her, the quintessential Israeli matriarch. She is there to look after our sons and daughters, as much as she is to fill boxes and sort through medical supplies.
“I put on that uniform and I say Baruch Hashem, thank you, and Am Yisrael Chai.”
Anyone who is interested in volunteering for Sar-El can contact Jacky on 0542600074.