From the Very Moment the Wheels of Our Plane Touched the Tarmac …

From the very moment the wheels of our plane touched down on the tarmac at JFK airport in New York, all of us, our wounded soldiers and our Chabad Terror Victims Project (CTVP) staff, have felt the warmth and love of Rabbi Uriel & Shevy Vigler and their extraordinary community from Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side. 

TinI4314231.jpgThey were waiting for us at the airport. With balloons. And smiles. When they saw us, they were beaming. When we saw them, our hearts were full because we could see on their faces instantly, even without words, how very much they care about our heroes of Israel. 

We spent our first evening in New York in the lovely backyard of a community member. It was a delightful, relaxing venue. Our host opened a discussion with the soldiers about how they felt about Israel and about their personal experiences. And he expressed his dedication to them for their heroic courage. He talked about how all the Jewish people were indebted to them for protecting all of us. 

Rabbi Mutty Fogelman took a few moments as well to express our gratitude to our host, to Rabbi Vigler, and to all those in the Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side who have worked so hard and so long to make this dream trip come true. 

Following a good night’s sleep, we began Monday morning with a delicious welcoming breakfast and reception at the Marriott Hotel. 

At this event there were two American soldiers, also wounded in the line of duty. They are part of a program called Heroes to Heroes run by Judy Schaffer that works to help these soldiers reconnect with their lives. A group of them are going to be coming to Israel just as our soldiers have come to America. CTVP is working on coordinating joint programming with Heroes to Heroes. 

One of the American soldiers spoke and talked about how all of them – in the United States Armed Forces and in the Israel Defense Forces – protect the freedom of the people of their own country and of the world. 

There was an instant and moving connection between the soldiers who come from worlds that are 6,000 miles apart but who have gone through experiences that unite them in ways many of us will never be able to understand. 

After breakfast we went on to sightsee – first to Madame IMG_8011.JPGTussaud’s Wax Museum where one soldier, whose injuries are so painful he literally has not been able to laugh in two years, burst into spontaneous laughter at the wax images and began taking photographs immediately. His friends told us it was an amazing, transcendent moment. 

We went on to Ripley’s Believe It or Not and from there to lunch at a kosher pizza shop where everyone enjoyed the delicious fare. 

The afternoon took us to Times Square for another extraordinary experience. The soldiers were dazzled by the amazing vista of this iconic New York sight. And then, they were dazzled again by the complete strangers who, seeing who they were, walked up to them to say hello. To tell them how proud they were of Israel and her heroes like them.

In the evening we dined at a lovely kosher restaurant on the Upper West Side. It was sponsored by a congregant of Rabbi Vigler who spoke about how very important Israel’s soldiers are and how deeply the American Jewish community appreciates them and all that they do for Klal Yisroel. He said they should always know that they are not alone. That American Jews are behind them fully. 

IMG_8442.JPGRabbi Fogelman also spoke and told everyone how deeply meaningful it is to the soldiers that people they have never met, who live thousands of miles away, care so much for them, for their welfare and for Israel. 

At each meal, our soldiers also speak, one at a time, to express their personal feelings about their experiences, their injuries, and their reactions to this extraordinary trip. 

And then it was time to sleep. Everyone was exhausted from a full and very moving and emotional day. For all of us at CTVP, it was a most rewarding and fulfilling day as we were able to give these wounded soldiers a special day they so very much deserve. We fell asleep looking forward to the morning and what the next day would bring for our heroes. 

This trip is just one aspect of CTVP’s deep and abiding commitment to the welfare and wellbeing of Israel’s heroes – her wounded soldiers and her victims of terror. We are dedicated to caring for them from the moment an injury or terror attack takes place until they no longer need us by their side – whether that is a week, a month, a year or many years.   

Tune in tomorrow and we will tell you about breakfast with the children and what happened there…

Click here for photos of today's activities 

(Photos by Bentzi Sasson)