Earlier this week at Camp Moshava, a B’nei Akiva camp located in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, Israeli staff members paid tribute to the fallen soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the last operation in Gaza two years ago this summer.
One late stormy evening after campers had retired for the evening, staff members gathered in the Beit Knesset. We all sat around in a semicircle to watch videos of the 2014 operation. We sang songs of tribute and members told stories of their connection to the soldiers on the screen. Many of the Israelis were not previously acquainted with each other but all mourned in unison as did their American friends. All shared a common connection. But how?
I was in Israel on a summer program during the summer of Operation Protective Edge. I enjoy hiking the Galil, swimming in the Kinneret, snorkeling in Eilat, and growing spiritually in Jerusalem. Wherever I traveled in Israel, I found signs of tribute to the soldiers who were stationed at the borders to defend Israel. These banners could be found hanging from stores, house windows and public squares. They said, “You have our front and we have your back.” This assured the soldiers that for keeping the borders secure, the people gave them their support. The slogan was the theme for my summer and remains apropos today.
As my trip drew to an end, I could not have left Israel without a trip to Har Herzl…a place that strengthens the nation while reminding them of the cost.I saw a grandfather visiting his son’s grave, a widow with her four children visiting the grave of their father, and, finally, a newly filled grave. I felt a connection of gratitude to these brave men. I wished I could thank them for allowing me to have the opportunity to travel and safely explore the ancestral home of the Jewish people. In later years, whenever I visit Israel I stop at Har Hertzl to pay tribute to these brave men and especially those who lost their lives when my brother served in the IDF.
Why did I feel a connection to the heroes on the slides? We are a Jewish nation of one people who share common ideas and purpose. Although we may live 6,000 miles apart, Americans felt your pain at the loss of Hadar Cohen and Hallel Yaffa Ariel. We prayed for the safety and return of Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifracha. Z”L. We also share your happy events and celebrate with equal joy on Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s 68th Independence Day.
As an American, I strive to continue to build a strong relationship between our two countries…countries that share similar ideologies and cultures. We will stand strong together against those that have ideologies completely contrary to ours. Israel, be aware, you will not stand alone in the coming years. We will work together, build together, and continue to invest our knowledge to aid those less fortunate than us.