July 15, 2024
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July 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Feeling Connected: Reflections On Three of the Most Meaningful Days of My Life

There was so much of my visit to Israel on the Bergen County mission that sounds absurd. As I have heard Rav Asher Weiss and now, Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon, state, we are all seemingly crazy for flying into a war when the natural reaction would be to stay far away. On top of that, I was only on the ground in Israel for 72 hours, meaning nearly 25% of my trip was spent on the airplane. Thinking practically, one could certainly question the wisdom of my trip as well as the trips many others are making. However, after experiencing this brief journey, I can say with certainty that this was the right thing to do.

At the site of the Nova festival, I noticed a chayala standing for minutes at one memorial. It was clear this one was deeply personal for her. Wanting to console her and connect to her pain as well as the victim, I asked her—already knowing the answer—if she knew the victim. She said it was her cousin who was 30 years old, had two kids and was an angel. The connection I felt with her pain and the pain of our people in that brief encounter is not something that could be replicated thousands of miles away.

We visited Kibbutz Kerem Shalom on the border of Gaza and Egypt. We saw the bullet holes on one of the houses and heard from the head of the kibbutz security team who led their miraculous battle against terrorists that helped minimize the loss of life in the kibbutz. We heard from the members of the kibbutz about the beautiful cohesion between religious and secular families that exists there. Later in the day, we visited the members of the kibbutz now residing in Ashalim and I was able to bring joy to a displaced 4-year-old girl by giving her a ride up and down in the air. To see firsthand some of the challenges the people of the kibbutz are enduring helped connect me to their suffering. To be able to bring joy to a little girl whose life has been disrupted, even if it momentarily hurt my back, was worth the trip.

Some of the most powerful moments were my encounters with many chayalim who are nothing short of modern day heroes. Whether at an Ishay Ribo concert celebrating the conclusion of four months of miluim for one unit in the north or at a barbecue with chayalim who had been fighting in Gaza that same day, I went over to many chayalim just to say thank you for everything they are doing. The insane thing is that every chayal would say thank you to me for coming as if I had done anything but they, nonetheless, seemed to genuinely be touched by our solidarity.

I was blessed to be in the presence of so many real-life heroes. We heard from the father of Adi Vital-Kaploun, HY”D, who was murdered on Kibbutz Cholon. While he is pained greatly by the loss of his daughter, this strong man still finds it in himself to recognize the miracles that happened on Oct. 7 sparing his life and to be grateful for the kids and grandchildren he still has. He has chosen life over despair.

We heard from Rachel Goldberg Polin and her husband, Jon, who, despite having every reason to want to crawl up in bed in despair over the captivity of Hersh, who we know was injured the day of Oct. 7, are pushing themselves to leave no stone unturned in bringing him home.

I met a 54-year-old chayal who is fighting voluntarily in Aza. I got to shake hands with a chayal fighting in Gaza who had a baby born three weeks before the war and another chayal who had been serving on the northern border who had a baby born during the war. While walking to the Kotel with our mission for Shacharit, I had the opportunity to have a conversation and build a connection with our guard who had just a few weeks prior been fighting in Khan Yunis. We live in a society in which many people get excited over meeting star athletes who are stars for excelling at a game. I was blessed to meet tons of superstars in 72 hours who are stars for excelling in life and idealism.

As we waited at the gate at the airport for our departure back to America, three people got up with instruments and played and sang “Acheinu” and “Vehi Sheamda.” Next, they transitioned to “Am Yisrael Chai” and people spontaneously started dancing. On Shemini Atzeret, Chazal say Hashem tells us that our departure from being with Him is difficult for Him and He has us stay one more day. It was as if Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael were concluding our trip by telling us our imminent departure was difficult for them and they were having us immerse in one last powerful moment together to ensure that we will continue this connectedness forward even as we physically part temporarily.

When one of my sons said they should make “welcome home” signs for me, my 7 year old corrected him that I actually was already home when I was in Israel. He could not be more right and our brothers and sisters there are waiting to welcome us home. I pray that we all figure out our way home in the near future despite the challenges that may be involved.

Thank you to Rabbi Daniel Fridman and the other rabbis and rebbetzins who coordinated this mission together with the Mizrachi organization.

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