The sense that something was profoundly different happened when I was pulled over for a spot check at customs in Ben Gurion Airport. With the battle raging in Gaza, I had arrived after a long flight from Los Angeles and headed right through the green line. I was suddenly asked to have my bag checked. The inspector started to question me, asking if I was carrying over $25,000 in cash. Identifying myself as a Chabad Shliach, I told him, “I don’t have that much but I do have a large amount, I’m picking up iPads and I’m headed straight to the hospital to distribute them to soldiers.” The inspector’s tone suddenly changed: “I just put on Tefillin 30 minutes ago in the Chabad booth in the airport.” Then he started to bless me like I was his son on my wedding day, at the same time showering me with good wishes on my mission to Israel.
I spent most of the day at the hospital in Tel Hashomer with the soldiers, and between the youth groups bearing cookies and countless relatives, the soldiers were full of good spirits. However, what was most impressive that day were the soldiers: while deeply touched that someone would fly across the world to give them a gift, they wanted to get well and back to the front. I was saddened by the injuries, but it was encouraging and clear that none of the soldiers had lost resolve.
On Tuesday, I attended the funeral of a soldier in Mount Herzl. I stood with thousands who had never met him, but felt connected to his self-sacrifice. An eighteen-year-old young man, his life snuffed out because he stood up for the Jewish people’s right to live in peace in their homeland. My heart broke as his grandmother wailed, and his sisters and friends spoke.
At sunrise the next day, I discovered the great spirit of the soldiers yet again. I had arranged in typical Israeli style (I know someone, who knows someone) to do a live webcast from just outside Gaza for the over 2,000 Jews who had gathered for an evening rally in Irvine, California sponsored by Jewish Federation and Family Services.
The soldiers led the Jews in California in a communal reciting of the Shema. Then the twenty soldiers sang and danced on APC—in California the crowd rose in song, musicians played music and we were connected together across thousands of miles as we sang Am Yisroel Chai, Ose Shalom and Dovid Melech Yisroel. California Jews, far from the battle, and young Israeli soldiers, groggy from rising at 5:30 a.m. after a night of patrols, dancing and singing together. The Jewish people stand united!
Rabbi David Eliezrie is at Congregation Beth Meir HaCohen/Chabad. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.