People asked me why I would put myself in danger and come to Israel now. Nobody would question flying to Israel to visit a wounded family member or pay respects heaven forbid for a family member who passed…When your home or family are in trouble, you come home.

…So you fly here and the flight attendants thank you for flying, while you have a whole row to yourself. And then you land in Ben Gurion and notice that your group has the only 2 buses at the airport. Then you get on the bus and the tour guide thanks you because he hasn’t had a job in 2 weeks. Then you go to your hotel and you are the only ones in the lobby and the hotel staff thanks you for coming. Then you walk the streets of Jerusalem and the storeowners tell you that the streets have been practically empty from tourists for the past two weeks. You make it to the Kotel where it’s eerily quiet.

Then you go to visit some of the 150 seriously and critically injured hero soldiers who have lost limbs, their hearing and their vision, you meet their parents who stay at their bedside. And even though you have never seen each other before, they give you hugs like you are beloved family and tell you that their sons want to go back to Gaza to achieve their goal and defang Hamas.

You drop off socks, underwear, cards carefully and beautifully drawn by first graders, Sony play stations and money for soldiers on the tense border which they used to buy knee pads and new helmet lights; their helmet lights fell off while they were walking in terror tunnels discovered underneath hospitals, mosques and schools and they thank you and hug you like you are their brother- because you ARE their brother. They give YOU strength, even as you do your best to instill some into them. And you part with ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ as you dance together to ‘Lo Lefached Clal’ – Do Not Fear – as they leave to go back into Gaza. The sense of unity was palpable.

You visit some of the bereaved parents and families of our heroic fallen soldiers. This particular child, Daniel, was the son of Varda Pomerantz whose job in the army is to sensitively and honorably inform family of the loss of their loved one… Now it was her turn. She lost her 21 year old son in battle – and we all lost our brother.  You are shown photos of their beautiful son playing soccer and read the handwritten letter that so many soldiers write to their family in the event of tragedy during battle. You sit quietly so as to not disturb the family and then are noticed and asked to come closer. You are asked why you came to Israel and explain that we are truly one family and you couldn’t be 6000 miles away during this difficult time for Israel and her people. You allay the concerns of the family by explaining that not all people believe the slanted media reports and criticism of Israel and support the actions of her soldiers.

You say “Hamakom Yinachem…”, Hashem should comfort you, and share in the torment and tremendous sorrow of the family you have just met but know that you will remember forever. You go to the cemetery and say tehillim and you see the pins from his uniform and his commanders’ hat while you catch yourself sobbing uncontrollably. You realize everyone here is a part of your family and you have to stand with your family in times of joy and sorrow. Why am I here, you ask? Where else could I be?!

With much thanks to Rabbi Shmuel Goldin and everyone at the Emunah Organization for organizing this trip on such short notice. May G-d watch over our brothers and sisters in Israel and the IDF. In particular, our hearts and prayers are with the Moed, Goldberg and Deluty families.