A Day Filled With Emotions…

Tuesday in New York – 10 Israeli soldiers and the Chabad Terror Victims Project staff. 

Tuesday morning began bright and early with a delicious breakfast. From there we proceeded to the Alef Bet Preschool, run by Mrs. Shevy Vigler, Co-Director of the Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side, our hosts for this marvelous trip.

GGmk4316157.jpgThe children were waiting excitedly for us, having prepared songs and cookies. They were so sweet as they sang song after song, smiling and grinning at the soldiers the whole time. When they finished, our soldiers started teaching them songs they remembered from their own childhoods in Israel.

And then, quite spontaneously, the soldiers picked up the children, hugged and kissed them, and started dancing with them. It was so moving. The children had stars in their eyes as these heroes of the Jewish people focused just on them. I am not certain who was more delighted with the visit, the children or our soldiers. Either way, it was a wonderful experience.

From there we went on to Rockefeller Center where the soldiers were treated to a view of Manhattan from the top that took their breath away. They marveled at the vista of the city spread out in front of them and took photo after photo.

CHXy4317600.jpgThe next stop was Liberty Island and Ellis Island. They were given a guided tour and at one point the guide talked about how the Statue of Liberty was the symbol of democracy and freedom in the United States.

The soldiers talked about how they felt an instant kinship to this because, as soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, they protect the democracy and freedom of the people of Israel with their lives. It was a highly emotional tour that brought them closely in touch with what it means to live in the United States and how similar the values are of Israel and the U.S.

The next stop was Ground Zero.

From the moment we reached the United States, the soldiers have been laughing, smiling, joking with each other and those they have met.

When we reached Ground Zero there was an instantaneous silence

 As they gazed at the site of the World Trade Center, each soldier had a contemplative and deeply introspective look on their faces and in their eyes. They were touched to their souls by this place where the world was shattered on a bright September morning almost nine years ago. The silence of the moment was deafening. The effect on the soldiers everlasting.

As they left Ground Zero it took a while to get back into the tenor of the trip. But these young men are known for their strength and their resilience and by the time we reached the next destination, Chinatown, they were smiling again.

The Lower East Side and Little Italy were also a part of the afternoon’s itinerary. 

lxJm4317592.jpgThen, as evening fell, we were joined by over 300 young professionals from all over Manhattan for a boat cruise that showcased the gorgeous Manhattan skyline.

One of our soldiers got up to speak. As he spoke, you could hear a pin drop in the room.

He talked about how he was wounded. He was trying to save three girls from terrorists which he ultimately was able to do. But in the process he was shot five times, three of the bullets going through his stomach. As he related the terrifying event, every eye in the room was fixed on him. People were barely breathing as they hung onto every word.

And then, when he finished, they rose as one in a round of grateful applause that practically shook the very sides of the boat.

Throughout the course of the cruise, each soldier had four, five, six or more people with them, listening to their stories, patting them on the back, telling them how very much everyone in the United States and throughout the Jewish world, appreciates the enormous sacrifices they make for Israel and for all of us.

Rabbi Menachem Kutner of Chabad Terror Victim’s Project spoke to the group about how very meaningful and important this trip is to the soldiers and to the people of Israel. The solidarity between the soldiers and the Jewish community in the U.S.

He said that Chabad Terror Victim’s Project works year round with wounded soldiers and victims of terror. To be able to bring these soldiers on this trip of a lifetime is so rewarding and gratifying. Because we see immediately the amazing transformation it has on our heroes. It literally changes their lives.

Rabbi Uriel Vigler, our host from Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side, also took a moment to speak abocFtl4317552.jpgut what this trip means to him and to his community and how grateful they are for having the opportunity to host this extraordinary event.

And then the soldiers and Rabbis Kutner, Fogelman and Vigler, plus others, broke into a spontaneous and emotional traditional circle dance.

Together they sang Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish People Live, and other songs of solidarity. It was an emotionally charged end to a day filled with a broad array of emotions – a day that will live in the minds and hearts of the soldiers and the CTVP staff forever.

Tune in again tomorrow. We will be getting up at 6:00 am to leave for Washington, DC and another day of unforgettable events.

(Photos by Bentzi Sasson)