We’ve Landed! And Our First Amazing Day! 

I wish you could have seen up close the faces of the soldiers and the families as they met each other  

  phpThumb.php (22).jpg

We’ve landed!

Our Chabad Terror Victims Project (CTVP) trip to Australia with ten wounded Israeli soldiers has really, truly begun.  We were greeted at the airport by several families from the Australian Jewish community along with Rabbi Yitzchak Barber (Rabbi Yaakov Barber’s brother).

I wish you could have seen up close the faces of the soldiers and the families as they met each other (Hopefully some of the photos I’ve enclosed will help you to get a good picture!) Even though they live thousands of miles apart, it was clear from the first moment that the soldiers and the community were far from strangers. It demonstrated once again that Am Yisroel is truly one.

The soldiers instantly recognized the sincere feelings of admiration and true love that the families felt for them. This was made so very clear as we were whisked from the airport to have breakfast in a beautiful ocean front home belonging to a member of the community. The host and hostess were so excited to have us there and “bent over backwards” to provide everything possible. They kept bringing out more and more food while speaking to each soldier personally and expressing great interest in their individual stories.

When we thanked them, they looked at us and said, “We must thank you. For all that you have done for the Jewish people, not only in Israel, but worldwide.”

From this beautiful, delicious breakfast, we went straight to downtown Sydney where we were treated to a monorail ride, an OZ IMAX video, and then an amazing “sky walk” thousands of feet above the Sydney skyline. It was a breathtaking way to see the beauty of this special city.

We followed this by a late lunch at Darling Harbor and in the early evening we strolled the famous boardwalk at Bondai Beach. There we were treated to a spectacular show of enormous waves crashing onto the sand and rolling back out to sea.

Dinner was at the delicious Katzi’s restaurant and then, exhausted from the flight and long day of activities, we all fell into bed and into a sound sleep.

Wednesday: Boats and Fish and Dancing…

I think every one of us slept “like logs” and we all woke up refreshed and ready for the new day. We begun with breakfast at Glick’s and then went down to the harbor where a large yacht was waiting for us. We cruised in the harbor passing the world-famous Sydney opera house. From there we went out into the deeper sea where the soldiers enjoyed amazing water activities including rides on meter boats, tubing and much more.

As I watched the soldiers having such a fantastic time in the water, I reflected on all the long months of preparation for this trip. Now that we were here it was clearly worth all the effort we put into it to see these heroes of Israel having such a wonderful time.

Let me relate an incident that I think will touch your heart as it did mine. Shmulik, who lost a leg in combat, carefully helped David, who can barely walk, and hand in hand they went into the water together. Watching them really brought tears to my eyes. It brought home to me that a large part of this trip is the bonding taking place between the soldiers. They have come to realize that, no matter how serious their injuries, they are all in this together. And no challenge is too great for them to face because they are not alone.

Izzy, who I told you about yesterday, who lost an arm, stood behind the wheel of the yacht and proclaimed in a joyous voice, “You see, there is nothing I can’t do, even if I have only one hand!”  The look on his face as he said this was deeply touching.

From the yacht we went to the aquarium where we had the great pleasure of meeting Rabbi Barber who had flown in from Melbourne.

The aquarium was an extraordinary place where the soldiers walked through a glass tunnel with sharks and a whole host of other sea creatures swimming literally right above their heads. It was an awesome experience.

Dinner was at the beautiful, oceanfront home of another community member who treated us to a traditional Aussie BBQ which the soldiers loved.

Wednesday evening came to a close with a very emotional program at Rabbi Milecki’s Shul. He was actually in New York, but addressed us via an internet hook-up. He and Rabbi Barber both expressed to the soldiers their enormous gratitude for the sacrifices they have made on behalf of the Australian Jewish community and the Jewish People everywhere.

Izzy then told his story to the entire group of soldiers and Australian community members. And he thanked everyone for hosting them. Emotions were running very high and there was not a dry eye in the room. Then the music started up and everyone got up to sing and dance in a glorious celebration of life.

To Be Continued…


Today’s Soldier in the Spotlight: Mor Shaked

Mor Shaked is twenty years old. He and his parents were evacuated from Gush Katif and they live in a caravan in Nitzan along with many other evacuees. His father was the head of defense in Gush Katif and fought against a number of terror attacks.

Mor is in an elite parachute division of the IDF. During the Gaza War, bullets shot from a house hit Mor in the thigh and in the sole of his foot, causing very severe injuries. He has only recently been able to bear weight on the leg but only then with the help of crutches.

When Mor was wounded, he was carried out by foot on a stretcher from the area where the fierce fighting continued. He then went by armored vehicle to Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikva. He has already undergone two complicated surgeries on his foot and two on his thigh. He was just recently released from the rehab department of the hospital to the day clinic where he comes three times a week for ongoing treatment.

We salute Mor and his brave compatriots for their courage and their devotion to Israel and the Jewish People.

With blessings, Yossi Swerdlov