US tour group leader returns to Israel to volunteer
08 August 2006
by Andrew Kitchenman
New Jersey, USA: Jeremy Stadlin was delivering a meal to a home in Safed, a town in northern Israel 10 miles from the Lebanon border, on Friday when he heard a siren warning that rockets would soon fall.
The 27-year-old got out of the car he was in, ducked into the concrete enclosure for a trash bin and listened to the whir of the rocket as it passed over his head.
"It sounded almost like I heard a really giant Frisbee," Stadlin said of the noise as the rocket passed.
For Stadlin, as for many others in the border area, the sound of rockets and the subsequent explosions have been a part of daily life for much of the past month.
Stadlin fled Safed with a college-age tour group he was leading in July after rocket attacks began from Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, but he decided to go back two weeks ago to do what he can to help the community there.
Stadlin has lived in Israel for the past 13 months and felt it was his duty to help. For the past two weeks, he has delivered meals to isolated families and has played his flute and guitar for wounded soldiers and Safed residents.
"I came back because I'm not a soldier, ... I'm not a fighter, I don't think it's in my character, but I feel it is my duty (to be) here," Stadlin said in a phone interview Monday. "I just knew that there was work I could do. If not me, I don't know who would."
Stadlin, a self-described free spirit, said he is a peace lover but feels that if Israel didn't fight, it would mean the destruction of the country. He works as a volunteer for Livnot, an organization that connects young Jewish people to Israel.
He will soon be joined by his mother, Maxine Elkins, and stepfather, Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, who are making a five-day trip to Israel next week.
Since graduating from Princeton High School in 1997, Stadlin has travelled much of the time. He studied at the University of Pittsburgh and Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia before spending time in the Pacific Northwest and volunteering at an orphanage in Guatemala.
He had found peace and quiet in Safed, which is also spelled Tzfat. The town, the historic centre of the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah, had not been the subject of attacks in 25 years.
That peace seemed distant Monday as Stadlin felt the hospital he was in shudder from a blast of a Katyusha rocket, and could look out and see two plumes of smoke.
He said many people have been living in bomb shelters for three weeks. The threat from rockets can be nerve-wracking while he is outside delivering food.
"You just pray and hope it does not land on you," he said.
He plays his instruments at the hospital as a token of thanks for the soldiers' efforts. He recalled a soldier who had been unable to sleep for two days after his friends were killed. "We played really gently. We played for 20, 25 minutes" and the soldier fell asleep, he said. He added that he had composed several songs to play to the accompaniment of the warning sirens.
Stadlin has known victims of the conflict. Michael Levin, the former Holland, Bucks County, Pa., resident and Israeli sergeant who was killed in Lebanon last week, had shared Sabbath meals with Stadlin in Jerusalem, Stadlin said.
Stadlin made sure he had his family's blessing when he decided to return to Safed. He said other people don't want their families to know where they are, but he knew he could count on his family's support.
He recalled a conversation with his father, Steven Stadlin of Philadelphia, quoting him as saying, "My gut reaction is that I would tell you to come home, but I know you won't come home."
His stepfather and mother live in Princeton Township, while his father and stepmother live in Philadelphia. Stadlin also has an identical twin, Yoni. Stadlin's stepfather, Dov Peretz Elkins, retired as rabbi of the Princeton Jewish Center and now serves as rabbi of a congrega tion in Montville, Morris County.
Maxine Elkins said she and her husband will be making the trip to Israel for the same reason that she said her son has stayed in Safed -- to make sure Israel is secure.
"We're very proud that he chose to do this and help," she said.
On his Web site, www.jerstadlin.blogspot.com, Stadlin shares stories of his time in Israel. Stadlin has a ticket to return to the United States next week, but he doesn't know whether he will return or make Israel his permanent home.