MJE SOLIDARITY TRIP:LAST DAY: SOLDIERS IN REHAB

For our last day of the trip we visited wounded soldiers at the Tel Hashomer hospital. Our group met with about a dozen soldiers (we were told not to take pictures so this blog will remain picture-less) all of whom had sustained serious injuries in Gaza and all of whom could be characterized as young, gracious, sweet and humble. One young man with whom we met was sitting with his mother and when I asked in what part of the army he served he humbly answered: “Golani”. His mother then chimed in: “a commander in Golani” and the young soldier smiled sheepishly.

Another soldier with whom we met, a tank commander, sustained an injury when his tank in Gaza was hit by a mortar. When I asked how long his rehab would take he responded in a very matter of fact manner: “two years”. He of course wasn’t happy about this but his joy and gratitude for simply being alive seemed to trump. Another soldier remarked that he and his comrades stay up late and crack jokes because they thankfully still have what to laugh about, ie-life.

The upbeat nature of the soldiers not only put our group at ease, but also demonstrated the pride each of them have to serve and the gratitude so many of them expressed to God for protecting them.

Larry, one of our participants, met with a civilian who was injured in a rocket attack. He was an older gentleman who had fought in the 1973 Yom Kipper War. At the end of the meeting Larry reached over to say goodbye and shake the injured man’s hand. However since his hand was completely covered with a bandage Larry switched to a fist bump. The man reciprocated with his fist and with a big smile told Larry: “Am Yisrael Chai”.

Am Yisrael Chai is right: the Jewish people live and will continue to live because of the bravery of our soldiers who carry the God’s blessing. May Hashem continue to bless them and may they all have a a refuah shleimah, a speedy recovery

MJE SOLIDARITY TRIP-DAY 5: MAX STEINBERG Z’L

Today we had the merit of waking up to a beautiful morning in Jerusalem, praying at the Kotel and hearing from two members of Knesset. But our visit to Mt. Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery, and seeing the freshly buried graves of soldiers who fell in Gaza, made the greatest impression upon our group.  We visited the grave of Max Steinberg z’l and that really hit home. Max was the young man from California who came to Israel on a Birthright trip in 2012 and just a few months later decided to join the army. It was Max’s tragic death that truly brought the sacrifices of the IDF to the Jewish American public. American Jews were feeling that “one of ours” had given his life for the people of Israel. 

But the reality is there really is no “one of ours”. There’s just the Jewish people and nothing confirms this more than walking along the many rows of graves of soldiers who gave their lives in Israel’s wars. The tombstones show soldiers from Ethiopia, Russia and virtually every country on the globe. Israel is a country of immigrants and the idea of a pure or native “Israeli” is a bit of a misnomer. Israel is a country for and by the Jewish people and so Max’s passing may cause the war to resonate with us American Jews a bit more, but he was no less of a soldier of Israel than someone born in Kfar Saba or Jerusalem. 


It’s these moments and Max’s great sacrifice which remind us that the Jewish people, no mater where we are from, are truly one people, and the land of Israel belongs to us all.

MJE SOLIDARITY TRIP – DAY 4: THE NEXT GENERATION

Today’s MJE activities included a hike in the Golan,  a class on “The Chosen People” and arriving in Jerusalem with our first visit to the Kotel and the famous Tunnel Tours. For me, on a personnel level, the highlight of my day was seeing my son Yosef who has been in Israel for the last six weeks on a program called NCSY Kollel. Sponsored by the Orthodox Union,  NCSY Kollel is a great program for Jewish teens combining Torah study with competitive sports, all in the heart of Jerusalem. 

This year the program drew 167 participants, mostly Jewish day school students, from all across North America. Almost immediately after the group arrived in Israel the sirens started going off in Jerusalem and  so the entire group was moved up North where they remained until about a week ago when they finally returned to Jerusalem. What is most impressive is that not one student left or decided not to come because of the rocket attacks. The students were all trained as to where to go in the event of an attack and they dealt with the situation as best as possible, but they all stayed and spent the summer learning Torah and playing ball.


This evening I traveled to Beit Meir, where the group is based, to see my son. I walked into a packed Beit Midrash (study hall) and joined for some Torah study and the praying of Maariv, the Evening Service. The energy was just amazing. The teens and their advisers and teachers filled the room with song and prayer and the sweet sounds of Torah study. Immediately following the service the head rabbi got up to tell everyone that the cease fire had just ended and that they needed to be prepared to head for safe rooms and bomb shelters if the sirens go off. For a moment a tension and seriousness fell upon the room but after the Rabbi finished his announcement, the students continued with their studies and the program moved on to the next class. The announcement made an impact but ultimately it was a mere pause in the regular schedule, so symbolic of how the general Israeli populace has been dealing with the situation. Please do not misunderstand: This is a serious situation. Israel has enemies and there is a war which has taken the lives of too many of our precious soldiers, but the people of Israel have adapted and life in Israel is moving on. 


On the MJE hike in the Golan earlier on in the day, we passed two Birthright groups, one from France and one from Chicago. As our groups passed each other on the mountain we shared how despite the war we were all still here enjoying Israel’s beautiful nature. What a great lesson for these Jewish teens and professionals: Israel will do what it needs to do to defend itself but it will not stop living and nor should we, Jews of the Diaspora, stop visiting. Israel and the Jewish people will continue to move on. In doing so we will not only persevere against our enemies but teach our children, the next generation, the secret to our survival. 

MJE SOLIDARITY TRIP-DAY 3: HOLY SOLDIERS

    Today’s itinerary included a tour of the mystical city of Tzfat, praying at the burial site of the great Sage Yonatan ben Uziel and a visit to Ben Tal for a firsthand view of where Israel recaptured the Golan Heights in 1967. As incredible as all these places are, the most heartwarming and inspiring moment was our visit to an IDF army base in Ramat Ha-Golan. There we were greeted by approximately 60 smiling soldiers who looked so happy to see us. We handed out cans of cold soda, sweets,  and I very proudly presented a watermelon to a few of the soldiers.  


    What struck me was the innocence and sweetness of these soldiers. They were all just so young and full of gratitude that we took the time to visit . After we all had some time to shmooze, I quieted the group and told the soldiers that back in New York all we did was watch TV and check the internet to see how they, the soldiers of Israel, were doing. “But here” I said, “here we can at least tell you in person how proud we are of you, how awesome we think each of you is and how your dedication to the Jewish people inspires us and gives us hope for the future”. I told them that “you are not only defending the Jews of Israel but Jews throughout the world, that we are one people, with one army and all we can say is thank you and kol hakavod.” I then recited the prayer for chayalei Tzahal- for the IDF, which was responded to with a loud and powerful AMEN!
 
One soldier after the next came over to me to say thank you, to shake my hand and to hug me. I was overcome with emotion. I just couldn’t believe that these guys who put their lives on the line for us could be so sweet and grateful to us. It is we who need to say thank you, I kept saying.
    Before I got on the bus to leave one soldier with blonde hair came over to me to say goodbye. His name was Alex Katz and he told me his was from New Rochelle. What a sweet kid. I asked him what his story was and he said that he had gone to Yeshivat Hakotel and decided to stay and do the army. I told him that was the same Yeshiva I attended many years back. I couldn’t help think of how that could have been me.  How all these boys could have been us. They are us and maybe that’s why this all feels so close to home. We are truly one people and with these boys defending our people and our country we’ve got a lot to be proud of. 

God bless our holy soldiers.   




MJE SOLIDARITY TRIP- DAY TWO: MURRAY

    The highlight of today’s trip in my mind was hearing from Murray during our visit to Atlit. Atlit was the detention camp the British set up to hold the many Jews (mostly Holocaust survivors) who tried smuggling themselves into Palestine from 1945 until the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948. The Haganah recruited US Merchant Marines to help obtain vessels and ultimately bring European Jewish survivors to Israel under the British blockade.

    Enter Murray Greenfield. Hailing from the very exotic Far Rockaway, Queens, Murray had just finished a stint as a Merchant Marine and was about to enter Hunter College when he was recruited to perform this incredible and dangerous task.

Murray explained to our group how he helped secure a vessel in which he and others ultimately brought 1500 Jews from Europe to Israel. He and the others were caught by the British and interred at Atlit for three months. Murray took us around showing us the camp and sharing stories of what it was like to be a prisoner in this British camp.

    Ultimately after his release and the establishment of the State of Israel, Murray remained in Israel, got married and started a family. I have heard his story many times but today was different because as he shared with our group today, Murray’s wife of 58 years recently passed and so he was sharing stories about late wife. I didn’t get her name but she was a survivor from Czechoslovakia whose family had lived in the same city for 350 years. She once told Murray that after the war when she had an opportunity to see some of her non-Jewish neighbors she asked them why they never stood up for her and the other Jewish families. She told Murray, “we, the Jewish people, are all alone,” and so, as Murray related, we have to take care of ourselves as we’re doing now in Gaza.



Murray selling his book which tells of how he rescued 1500 survivors after the war and brought them to Israel.
    

   Although it sad to be alone, nothing fills me with greater pride than knowing that I belong to the same people as Murray Greenfield and all the other brave men and women who built this amazing place called Israel. 

MJE SOLIDARITY TRIP TO ISRAEL: DAY ONE

    I had thought that one advantage we’d have in coming to Israel at this time would be shorter lines. However upon arriving at Ben Gurion airport in Israel this afternoon I was pleasantly surprised by the long line at Passport Control. It seems our people are still coming to Israel and in good numbers! 


    We gathered our bags and headed for dinner at which we had the honor of hearing from two soldiers, Avi and Aviad. Both  were in their early to mid 20’s and both donned kippot. Avi who spoke first said he was sent to the front lines to speak to the troops and motivate them in their important and dangerous missions. He shared that what he tells the troops is that we, the Jewish people have been around for over 3000 years with many enemies but none who have ever been successful. We are God’s eternal people…”this is our land”, said Avi “and we are not leaving”.  The next soldier who spoke, Avi, told us that in Gaza he killed a terrorist by shooting him in the chest with his M-4 long range rifle. The terrorist was holding an RPG. He spoke in a vey matter of fact kind of way but in no way was he bragging, just sharing his experiences. When I asked him if he was happy about the cease fire he responded with a simple “no”. He expressed his concern that the job of dismantling Hamas’ infrastructure would be left undone and too many Israeli soldiers would have given their lives for nothing.

Two soldiers Avi and Aviad who just returned from Gaza. They spoke to our group. Avi was brought to the front to motivate the soldiers. He told the group, “this is the Jewish people. Avi killed one terrorist; he’s a marksmen.”


    We boarded the MJE bus and headed to our hotel in Haifa. Upon entering the lobby we saw about 60 young men and women, all from the Ukraine here in Israel on a Birthright trip. I met a young man named Vlad who was thrilled to be in Israel. Although as he remarked that he was coming from his country which was at war and coming to Israel also at war, he was nonetheless thrilled to be here and meet some New York Jews. Looking around at all these Ukrainians I couldn’t help but feel pride in knowing that Israel is truly a place of “kibbutz galiyot”- an ingathering of the exiles. May we speedily merit to witness the full and complete ingathering of Jews from all over the world, as our holy prophets declared in the Torah.


Love from Israel.

Going to Israel with my New Device

I’ll be able to share the experiences with you. I recorded this just yesterday before Shabbat, and I hope to share the trip with you as I go along.