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Belev Echad

Keeping you up to date with blog posts, pictures and happenings of the belev echad trip to NYC

All good things come to an end...

I just spent ten of the most incredible days of my life. The soldiers just left this morning back to Israel. They were so emotional at the airport. Some started crying. They shared with me how much they enjoyed it here in New York and how much this trip meant to them. It was an absolute pleasure having them as our guests. I am receiving constant emails about how people enjoyed meeting the soldiers and how happy they were that we brought them here.

Roi Grilak told me that he has had 20 surgeries over the last seven years. He suffers from constant pain. He is in rehabilitation. He is scheduled to have another surgery in Israel next week. For him this trip was just a breath of fresh air. An opportunity to simply smile and be happy and forget about all his troubles and woes.

Ethan Kariti told me that for him the most enjoyable part of the trip was the Friday night dinner. It was unbelievable for him to meet our community in the Upper East Side and to see how so many people just came to give him honor and respect was simply mind boggling.

Ofer Shpizer shared with us that yes they toured Empire State and everything else in Manhattan, and yes they saw Washington, Niagara Falls but for him the most awesome part of the trip was when we went to the Ohel, the Rebbe’s grave and his son Ben, the most badly wounded soldier in Operation Cast-Lead asked to put on tefillin. He asked to put on tefillin becasue the last time he put them on was moments before he entered Gaza and was wounded. He felt that the Tefillin had saved his life. Ofer who had never wrapped Tefillin previously said that if my son puts them on I will also. This was truly an awesome experience. Something spiritual and out of this world

The purpose of this trip was to bring these ten Israeli soldiers here to New York and simply to give them the time of their lives. This was something which we succeeded beyond our wildest expectations. Thank G-d, our community was incredibly supportive and we succeeded in raising together the necessary funds.

I would like to thank you for supporting this project and realizing its tremendous significance. Hopefully we can work together on future projects.

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What is happening in Israel?

I was up till 3am last night talking to my new friends, the ten Israeli soldiers. We were in the Days Inn Hotel in the Niagara Falls. I asked them to share with me what the highlight of their trip here in NY was. Idan Levi told me that for him meeting our community by the communal events was simply incredible. He said, "people actually wanted to shake my hand, they congratulated me. They displayed care and concern for me. This was tremendously uplifting for me." He explained that in Israel wounded soldiers do not get enough love and care as they have seen by our community here.

This was a comment I heard many, many times by numerous soldiers over the course of their trip here - that in Israel people simply do not care enough about them. Granted that we really pampered them here with first class treatment, limo's, Hamptons, BBQ's etc etc but come on, what in the world is happening in Israel? Is it true that Israeli's do not care in Israel about wounded soldiers?

Chabad in Israel has an organization called Chabad Terror Victims Project which takes care of soldiers as much as they can. Rabbi Menachem Kutner works tirelessly to ensure that they are taken care of. Nevertheless, this question has been raised on different blogs but I still do not see any satisfying response? Perhaps YOU can enlighten me? 

Weekend in NY

On Friday night approximately 300 people joined us for our Shabbat dinner at the Marriot Hotel honouring our special guests, ten wounded IDF soldiers. The energy in the air was almost palpable. The sense of unity was overwhelming. During the course of the evening, each veteran shared his personal story of battle and injury. I was left stunned as person after person came over to me and thanked Chabad for the opportunities showered upon these ten very special men. The emotions were running high all night, and by the end there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

On Shabbat morning, the scene was no different. The shul was packed and each soldier was honoured with an aliyah to the Torah. The service was interspersed with spontaneous bouts of dancing and the spirit of brotherhood enveloped all present.

Seudat Shlishit was followed by one of the most spiritually charged events I have ever attended. Every community of the Upper East Side had representatives present, with Rabbis Shmidman, Krasnianski and Lookstein, Kutner all addressing the crowd. The shul was brimming with so many people; if I hadn’t known better I’d have thought it was Yom Kippur.

Ofer Spitzer, the father of soldier Ben who accompanied his son to the U.S., recalled hearing the news of Ben’s injuries. He explained that at 2:30am one night, he opened his front door to two military officers. Instinctively he knew bad news was coming. When the men explained what had happened, Ofer screamed. He raced to the hospital to find his precious son lying helplessly on the bed, with one arm gone and the other paralyzed. Ofer described the raging terror that coursed through him as he lifted the sheets to assess what was left of his son. Ofer was crushed when doctors told him his son would likely not make it through the night and his wife, who was overseas at the time, was immediately summoned back home. During the course of that dreadful night, Ben was resuscitated forty times.

It is by no small miracle that Ben is alive today. His father described the tremendous challenges of living with a son who has no hands and cannot perform even the most basic functions. Those present in the room cried as Ofer said, “Besides for the physical difficulties, the pain that a parent must endure while watching as his child suffers so greatly is heartbreaking.”

Here is a quote from twelve year old Adam Lassner who spoke at the event. "This past Wednesday and Thursday I had the zechut to travel to Washington DC with my 10 new friends plus Ofer and Eran.  My words today cannot describe the intense joy I felt being with them. Spending time talking, laughing, playing video games, singing songs with these heroes was for me a memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life."

On Motzei Shabbat, the soldiers were carted into a luxury limousine and driven to Times Square to say havdala. They then headed to the Hamptons where Kobi entertained everyone with his musical talent on the piano. The guys had a great time, singing and drinking beers till 6am. Sunday was a relaxing day with a delicious barbeque served for lunch. The owner of the beachfront home, who graciously hosted the soldiers, told them, “For 25 years I’ve wondered why I own this house. Today I discovered the reason.”

Pictures of the Hamptons. 

Pictures of Havdala in Time Square

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A trip to the Ohel…

On Friday morning we went to the Ohel of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The soldiers were very excited about coming to this holy place. It was a time for them to open up a little bit. They could share their feelings. Here is a glimpse into what I was able to discover from their world.

As we came in Ben Shpitzer asked Rabbi Menachem Kutner if he could put on tefillin before he actually goes inside the ohel to pray. He explained that the last time he put on tefillin was just before he went into Gaza and was wounded and he felt that the tefillin had save his life. I felt as if I was struck with lightning when I heard these words. Here is a soldier who was severely wounded in Gaza. In fact the most badly wounded soldier in the battle. He lost one arm, the other paralyzed. He needs two full time aides to go about his daily functions and here he is saying that the tefillin saved his life.

His father Ofer who saw Ben putting on tefillin said that even though he had never put on tefillin before in his life, if Ben is putting on tefillin he would also like to and he then wrapped them on as well..

I was talking to Roi Grilak in the Ohel and he told me about his injuries and about his rehabilitation. He has undergone 20 surgeries to date and has trouble falling asleep at night. For Roi’s full profile click here. I asked Roi if he has any regrets about going to the army. If he is angry or upset at the army or at the politicians. He told me clearly that if he would have to make the same decisions again he would be more than happy to serve in the army again and protect his country and his people. Such courage I have never ever seen before.

Another soldier was telling me in the Ohel that before he came to Manhattan he was very depressed. Unfortunately in Israel there are plenty of wounded soldiers and its hard to give every single one special attention. He was on the point of suicide – that’s how bad it was. Until Rabbi Menachem Kutner offered him to come on this trip to Manhattan. This past week was the happiest week of his life since he was injured. He is touring, having a good time and being treated with respect. He said this trip has given him a new breath of life. Literally a life saving trip.

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Soldiers in the White house

Wednesday June 9th we left at 6am for a two day trip to Washington.

The soldiers thoroughly enjoyed themselves touring all the major sites in Washington. While viewing the exhibits of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Maor emotionally stated, “This is exactly what we soldiers fight for, to be certain that nothing like this can ever occur again. The loss of my arm’s use was worth the sacrifice.”

On Thursday morning the soldiers enjoyed a VIP tour of the White House followed by a warm welcome to the United States by officials in the Israeli embassy. Senior Israel Police Attaché to the United States, Uri Bar-Lev, addressed the auspicious guests. A native Israeli himself, Bar-Lev is no stranger to tragedy, having lost a leg while serving his country. Bar-Lev explained the uniqueness of the Israeli army, explaining, “Every Israeli knows what it means to be a soldier, because everyone has a family member who has fought in the army. Israel’s army is like one family. Our soldiers fight on Israeli land, on Israel’s very borders and therefore our victories are vital.”

Also present was Senior IDF Attaché to the United States, Gadi Shadmi. Shadmi felt an intrinsic connection with each soldier after having read about them on Chabad Israel Center’s official website. He had memorized each profile and he felt humbled to stand before such heroes. Rabbi Menachem Kutner of Chabad Terror Victims Project, who has come to know the soldiers personally as he deals with them on a day to day basis and who is with them on this trip, exclaimed that he stands in awe of their courage.

When asked to explain Israel’s recent clash with the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara, Shadmi stated, “The world is envious of our soldiers. We were attacked on the ship, forced to retaliate and there were only nine casualties. This is something truly phenomenal...”

Twelve-year-old Adam Lassner, who joined the group’s trip to Washington, questioned Bar-Lev, “In your view, how will the world be different in five years time? ”Bar-Lev replied, “We will still be fighting over the same issues. They will take more than five years to resolve.”

“That’s one answer,” Rabbi Uriel Vigler, countered. “But the real answer is that Moshiach will be here!”

“Of course.” Bar-Lev replied with a smile. “Yes. May he come right now!”

Pictures of D.C. 

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Cruise

This past Tuesday night, four hundred members of Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side’s community, joined ten IDF soldiers on a grand two hour cruise along the Hudson river. The cruise was an opportunity for the community to meet and thank ten heros of Am Yisrael in a fun, relaxing and enjoyable setting while enjoying music, great food, open bar, and a variety of entertainment booths.

During the cruise, Rabbi Menachem Kutner introduced some of the soldiers to the community. The community was truly moved when the soldiers described in detail how they were injured. The climax was when Ben S, a soldier who lost one hand, and the other is paralyzed and suffered severe head injuries got up and emotionally declared to his commanding officer Ron Lichy. Thank you for saving my life in Gaza - those were all the words he could uttter...

The cruise ended when Uri R. ended his speech and thanked the entire community for their support and thanked them for bringing them to the United states and allowing them to have a wonderful vacation.

I then took the mike and corrected him. “It is not you who have to thank us. It is our pleasure and honor to be hosting these true heros of our time. We are the ones who have to thank you." 

I have been receiving emails the whole morning of how people were so moved last night at the cruise. They were simply in awe and admiration at these courageous young guys. Kol Hakavod! 

Check the pictures out! 

The Highlight of the entire trip

This was something truly incredible. We brought the soldiers this morning to our Alef Bet Preschool. The kids were waiting for them. They had prepared special songs and cookies for our beloved soldiers. After the kids finished their songs, the soldiers started teaching the kids some of the songs that they remembered from school. And then the soldiers simply picked the kids up, hugged them, kissed them and started dancing with them. Truly an inspiration! This was truly the highlight of the trip so far.

The pictures simply say it all. Check them out!

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Some of my thoughts today day 2

I wanted to share with you a few of my thoughts. I saw one of the soldiers early in the morning in the hotel walking around. I asked him why he is up so early and he replied that he is in constant pain from his injuries. It is so bad he simply cannot sleep. I held myself back from crying. Later on in the day during a trip to Madame Tussaud's I saw him laughing at the wax images and taking pictures. His friends told me that this is the first time they have seen him laughing in the last two years. Just for this, the entire trip was worth it.

We were eating breakfast this morning and one of the soldiers used his prosthetic hand to hold his fork and eat. With the other hand which is broken and bruised he spilled his drink all over himself. He noticed that I had observed all this and he told me "dont worry - it was worth giving up my hands for Am Yisrael."

Another soldier was in Harlem yesterday on 125th street. I noticed him buying a T-shirt. Rabbi Menachem Kutner, the group leader from Chabad Terror Victims Project, told me that this is a special occassion because he has been so upset about his injuries the last few years that he never bothered buying himself anything. This was truly a momentous occassion.

As one community member put it. "We are the ones who have the privilege of meeting and hosting the soldiers." 

Click here to see pictures of day 2! 

OFFICIAL WELCOME!

Israel meets America!

A lavish breakfast was beautifully set up for the official welcome of the Belev Echad trip to NY. The soldiers were formally welcomed by members of the business community, Rabbi Vigler & Rabbi Krasniasnki.

Roi - one of the soldiers spoke briefly about his experiences and thanked the community for this trip of a lifetime. He also said the soldiers hoped to just have a break and forget about the treatments and constant therapies they endure back home.  

Mark - a wounded US soldier injured in Iraq, joined our official welcome for our IDF soldiers and welcomed the soldiers to the USA. "At the end of the day US and Israeli soldiers are on the same side. The day Israel and America stop being friends would be a sad day for the world"

Click to see pictures Exclusive Welcome Reception 

 

THEY'VE ARRIVED

What an experience! I'd recommend adding this to your 'bucket list'!!

We waited for almost 3 hours for the soldiers to arrive- everyone was on edge, anxiously awaiting their arrival. Excitement bubbling, we all held blue and silver balloons - awaiting the 3pm flight of EL-AL.

When the Chayalim walked through the doors into the terminal - the energy was high - excitment had been building. The welcome crowd ran to greet them, hug them and burst into song and dancing. "Heveinu Shalom Aleichem"

WE ARE SO EXCITED!!!!!! I hope you will be a part of at least some of the trip!

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WELCOME & WELCOME

Welcome to the Belev Echad blog and today we WELCOME the 10 IDF Chayalim/soldiers.

We are energized and eagerly anticipating their arrival at 3PM today!

We (members of the community) are heading over to JFK for a grand welcome - if you'd like to come, email me here or just show up!

Join us for some of the events we are hosting for the community

Cruise along the Hudson river while having a great time

Join a communal friday dinner - of thanks

Click here for the 10 itinerary 

Don't miss this incredible opportunity- don't say you weren't warned! 

 THE GOODIE BAGS FOR THE SOLDIERS 

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