CBI’s trip to Israel: A moment of transcendent gratitude

Members of Congregation Beth Israel are wrapping up a trip to Israel led by Rabbi Stephen Kahn. Here’s a note from Ken Seidberg, written on Dec. 24, about one of the highlights of the trip for him.

We hear from others who have visited Israel that every day one experiences a sight or an event so significant, so different that it will stay with you forever.  Since visits to Israel for most of us are few and far between, when that time arrives we can only hope that will be true for us.  Today I think I can say that we all shared such a moment.

That moment occurred for us all in the furthest northern border of Israel. At the Israel-Lebanon border, overlooking the Hula Valley and with Mount Hermon’s snowcapped peaks and the vast range of the Golan nearly in sight, our CBI troop met a man named Eitan.  A slight, lean but strong man of 53 with incredible resolve and love for his life in Israel as a “farmer” met our troop of 18 CBI’ers with a purpose to show us two things: his Israel and the men that make his Israel possible.

His Israel was evident to us as he proudly led us over the hills to fields of apples and kiwis. He spoke of these vast fields of green like a father retelling stories of his son’s acts of heroism. These fields were his life’s work and his legacy to Israel.  And the stark barren and rocky Lebanese side drew a sharp contrast to two people, Israelis who worked to make life better and worth living and those on the other side he sought hard not to call his “enemy.”

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CBI bat mitzvah Reann Bressler plants a kiwi tree at Kibbutz Malkia on the Israel-Lebanon border. Photo courtesy of CBI

Eitan thanked us for entrusting him with his protection and particularly the six children on our bus to his care there in the fields as he took us within meters of Hezbollah’s southern watch post. Eitan, however, took us for a special task.  We arrived at section of a beautiful “orchard,” and leaving the bus, we followed him to the side of that field.  There he showed us a recovered and disarmed Katyusha missile that had been fired by Hezbollah in Lebanon into the fields.  He then showed us two kiwi plants he had set aside for the young adults in our group to plant, which they did while we all watched…he said that our response to Hezbollah’s evil ways would be to do the Jewish thing; the Israeli thing … to plant fruit trees.

Eitan received a phone call and advised we needed to immediately go to another location. He had arranged a rendezvous with IDF soldiers tasked with protecting Israel’s northern border.  After some moments’ drive, we saw them; eight uniformed and armed IDF soldiers beside two armor plated military vehicles (one topped with a machine gun).  These 19-year-old “men” with M16, radio and other equipment strapped to their bodies watched us intently as we approached them from our bus.  One could see in their eyes a look that expressed…”who are these people?” and “what do they really want?”  Of course, they knew generally. Eitan, the “farmer” and military liaison for Kibbutz Malkia had told them. But the look was still there… that guarded look.

We made our introductions and Rabbi Kahn presented them with a few practical gifts: coffee burners and paraphernalia they could use in the field and some food. This was a small way for us to show them we appreciated them and what they were doing for Israel and for every Jew and non-Jew who loves Israel.

But then that moment came: that moment of emotion that overwhelms you when you realize how important that moment is in your life. The realization and understanding of what these men these 19-year-old men are doing requires, demands from you more than gifts. The moment compels you to tell these men what they mean to you and how much you love what they do and, yes, even love them though you don’t even know them. And we did. We told them and we told them that while we were not there with them last summer, we followed them, we prayed for them and we cried for their (our) lost lives those terrible two months. We told them they were as our own sons.

The day was not over for us but in truth the climax of our day had come. The moment we came to Israel for… the moment we take home for the rest of our lives had come. It was a moment of transcendent gratitude — where we deeply understood what it means to be part of the Jewish People … of the Jewish Family.

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Gabrielle Kahn, 13, along with other CBI members, brought gifts to IDF soldiers protecting the Israel-Lebanon border. Photo courtesy of CBI

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