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.