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IDF Soldiers, US College Students Bond over BBQ

Elizabeth Ben Abraham saw soldiers everywhere in Israel, toting machine guns in buses, malls, restaurants. Only at a barbecue on an army base did the California State University of Northridge student notice how young they are.

Elizabeth Ben Abraham saw soldiers everywhere in Israel, toting machine guns in buses, malls, restaurants. Only at a barbecue on an army base did the California State University of Northridge student notice how young they are.

“Most are younger than I am,” she noted. “Visiting the soldiers on the base offered a good release for them.”

For Howell and 30 other North American college students, the barbecue was a break from their intense three-weeks of Jewish study at Israelinks, a Chabad on Campus International sponsored program. It was also an opportunity to show appreciation the Israeli soldiers. The base, a short drive north of Jericho, is so hot in summer that training exercises are limited to nighttime hours.

“We wanted the soldiers to know we haven’t forgotten about them,” said Rabbi Yossi Witkes, director of IsraeLinks.

When 130 soldiers emerged from their canvas tents, they appeared not to know what to make of the Americans. Then the international language of meat smoking on the grill helped them find common ground.

Bringing a barbecue to the soldiers “meant a lot to me because these are our brothers and sisters defending our homeland,” said David Lewis, a student at University of Delaware.

IsraeLinks scholar-in-residence Rabbi Yossi Jacobson thanked the soldiers for their sacrifice. The commander of the base urged the American students to fight for Israel and help it win the war of words and popular opinion. When soldiers lined up to put on tefillin, IsraeLinks participants helped the soldiers with the blessings. As the sun set, the band began to play. Students hoisted soldiers, lean from months of desert training, onto their shoulders.

The Americans described the barbecue as one of the highlights of their trip. “It was a true taste of what it’s like to be an Israeli,” said Jessica Howell of the University of Florida.