Tightly wrapped around the steering wheel of a 2022 Subaru Forester is a leather cover bearing the word “Steelers.” Since last week, Daniel Sokol, 40, has clutched the accessory and its emblazoned red, yellow and blue diamond logo when driving from his home in Bet Shemesh, Israel.
With no guests to transport due to war, Sokol, a licensed tour guide, is fervently chasing a different mission: load up his 520-liter trunk with sandwiches, supplies, toys — whatever people give him — and take the contents where they’re needed.
His first delivery was a soldier.
“Sunday morning [Oct. 8] was total chaos,” Sokol said.
After Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, more than 360,000 reservists were summoned by the Israel Defense Forces.
“The whole country was being called up,” Sokol said.
His wife, fellow Pittsburgher Aliza Stiebel, included Sokol in a WhatsApp group for soldiers who needed rides.
Sokol’s phone buzzed. He got in his Subaru, a sporty gray vehicle with orange trim, and along with his son, picked up a soldier and drove north for two hours before depositing her in Afula.
Sokol received another message.
Soldiers were being feverishly dropped at bases “but they didn’t have anything,” Sokol said. “We organized a drive — probably 70 families donated.”
Medicine, deodorant, food, toothpaste, clothing and towels were crammed into the back of Sokol’s car.
On Oct. 9, he took another of his three children, drove two hours north and met several soldiers.
“They literally took the stuff from my vehicle and threw it into tanks and whatever was going down south,” he said.
Sokol returned to his Subaru and drove home.
A day later, he attended a funeral.
“It was for a lone soldier who was killed,” Sokol said.
He and a friend drove to Mount Herzl, the site of Israel’s national cemetery.
“We weren’t sure how many people were going to show up,” Sokol said.
More than 1,000 people attended the funeral, which lasted until 1 a.m. he said, adding, “It was eerie.”
Beside the lone soldier’s grave were nine other plots for others who were killed early on in the war.
“Dozens of soldiers are being buried every day,” Sokol said.
Word spread that more graves were needed. The Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh graduate volunteered to dig, but before he and others could place their shovels in the earth a tractor arrived.
“It was intense,” he said. “We weren’t needed anymore.”
The next day, Sokol visited an electronics store in search of portable phone chargers.
“Soldiers are literally in the fields,” he said. “There’s nowhere to plug in.”
With donated funds, Sokol bought 30 units. He got back in his Forester and delivered the chargers to people in his synagogue whose children were headed to war.
Sokol received another message. He headed to Aroma, a coffeehouse chain, and collected 150 sandwiches. He then “picked up cakes and other supplies, and drove them an hour to an army base,” he said.
Sokol was greeted by soldiers in a military vehicle.
“It had come straight from the field,” he said. “They’re staying in the field. That’s their home for days.”
Sokol transferred the contents of his car.
He has “no idea” who paid for the food or supplies, he said. “All I knew was someone needed a driver to drive something, and then I drove around the city trying to get everything figured out. Everything was last second, and it worked out.”
Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 invasion, the war has brought devastation, trauma and absolute disruption. Sokol, whose tour guide services are often booked months in advance, said he can’t think about its economic impact.
“We didn’t work for two years because of COVID. Then we had a year-and-a-half of plenty, and now it will be back to zero for a while. I feel like it’s all decided on Rosh Hashanah,” he said. “I do what I can with what I have. I have my tour guide vehicle and I can drive around the country.”
On Wednesday last week, Sokol received a message about Shavei Darom, a village located less than 10 miles from Gaza.
“I found out that these kids need toys,” he said.
Sokol and his 13-year-old and 7-year-old got in the Subaru and drove to a nearby store. With money sent from former clients, friends and family, Sokol bought 7,500 shekels ($1,855 USD) worth of Magna-Tiles, Legos, Playmobil and chess sets. He loaded the gifts into his car and drove home. The next day, he headed south.
Shavei Darom’s residents live in trailers with safe rooms. The conditions are such that “when there’s an explosion above their heads, the whole house shakes,” Sokol said. “When they hear gunfire they’re petrified — not of the rockets, but of terrorists coming in and kidnapping them.”
Sokol removed large plastic bags of toys from his trunk, delivered the gifts then drove home.
On Friday he attended another funeral, this time for a soldier from Bet Shemesh. Sokol didn’t know the deceased but felt he had to go.
“These soldiers are giving their lives,” he said. “It’s family.”
When Shabbat began, a period of quiet covered the community; most people, Sokol noted, refrained from using their phones.
The uncomfortable lull was exacerbated by absences inside the synagogue.
“There were no young people,” he said. “I think 80 people from my shul were called up.”
Sokol and Stiebel moved to Israel in 2005, one month after they were married in Pittsburgh.
In the 18 years they’ve been in Israel, they’ve experienced other periods of unrest, but Sokol said the current vibes are impossible to ignore.
“Everyone has direct family members in the army,” he said. “Everyone knows someone who was kidnapped or killed.”
Sokol said he’s trying to wrap his head around the situation. He’s amazed at the unification of global Jewry, “the amount of tzedakah that has come in from around the world,” but he’s also aware of the microcosmic ripples of war.
On the day that he bought toys, he brought two of his children. After parking the Subaru, Sokol’s phone beeped. A siren alarmed. Rockets had been fired. Sokol’s 13-year-old and 7-year-old laid down next to the car. As the children’s bodies pressed against the ground, Sokol spread his above theirs.
“There was a big boom. It was terrifying,” Sokol said.
Minutes later, he and his children entered the store. They bought toys for kids in the south.
Sokol drove home.
When asked about his kids, Sokol said, “It’s been tough.”
“No joke: A message was sent that school was going to resume for a half-day, then a siren went off maybe five minutes later,” he said.
Fathoming children’s realities is nearly impossible, yet even in war, there is a familiar thread, Sokol said.
When asked if his kids were eager to return to class, Sokol chuckled.
“They aren’t excited,” he said. “It’s school.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.