Driving to the airport on Wednesday afternoon, I was filled with sadness and incredibly broken spirits. I have never been so sad to be visiting Eretz Yisrael in my life.
I was feeling uncomfortable on so many different levels; will my presence be of any significance or meaning to these most beloved families? Will they just look at me as yet another representative, from just another organization, who is “paying his dues” by passing through their grieving home? Will I even have a chance to explain where I come from, that I have come to mourn with them, and convey some of our collective thoughts and feelings of their brothers and sisters in America?
But after all, I was chosen as our “shliach tzibbur”, to deliver a piece of our heart to the Shaer, Frenkel and Yifrach families respectively; so the answer had to be to go, and to make the very best of this most unfortunate trip.
Getting stuck on the JFK runway for close to two hours, I said to myself; this special trip is starting off drastically differently than I had expected. I was meant to land at 12 PM in Tel Aviv, go directly from the airport to meet up with Rabbi Weinreb from the OU, and visit the families; and this plane delay would now throw off the entire Israel arrangement.
But boy was I mistaken. This was a trip that will be etched in my mind for all posterity. It was the most inspiring and uplifting trip I could have ever made, and I simply have to share my feelings with the tzibbur, who felt the grave importance of sending a shul representative.
In the middle of our flight, the stewardess began to speak with me, and we got into a very pleasant conversation. She then inquired when I was planning to return back to the States, and I said I would only be staying until until after Shabbos, and I would then be returning home. She said “just four days? What kind of trip is that?” And I proceeded to tell her that I was sent by our shul to visit the three respective families, to deliver our beautiful letters, and to let them know that the affection of their beloved brothers and sisters in America, knows no bounds.
She immediately began to cry uncontrollably, and said, this kehillah of yours is something unique and something incredibly special. For you to get on the flight is no big deal; but this speaks volumes about your kehillah, that this is what they feel is important. This is where their hearts are, and this is what is occupying their minds – how incredible!
So the stewardess proceeds to make an announcement in tears, to a plane filled almost to capacity with Birthright groups; “Rabotai! We have on our plane, a shliach Mitzvah! Come meet a Rabbi who was sent by his Kehillah to perform the great mitzvah of nichum aveilim, for those whom they feel are their own brothers and sisters! Our plane is safe because we have a shaliach mitzvah on board with us!”
This led to a whole pandemonium, and after I finally got to sit down again, the young man next to me informs me that he is 26 years old, from Seattle Washington; he works in a national zoo, and is going to Israel for his first time. He then proceeds to tell me that he was so inspired by our kehillah, and that he would like to borrow my Tallis to do a mitzvah that he has not done since his Bar mitzvah celebration (at age 16) in memory of the three precious neshamos (souls)
I gladly gave him my tallis and then proceeded to ask him if he knew how to recite a bracha. He said “sure I do”, and went on to take out a small piece of paper from his pocket, and recited the “Tefillas Haderech”. This was the one and only Hebrew Bracha that he was familiar with, so he decided to recite it as well on the Tallis.
He then asked to borrow my Tefillin as well, which was followed by a long conversation with the other members of the plane, who were all taking pictures of this highly unusual scene.
But that wasn’t it; after a few minutes he turns to me and says “Rabbi, I am so inspired, but in Seattle Washington we don’t have these boxes. But I want to continue to do something special for these three precious souls, even after I return home. So what would you suggest I do?”
I was in complete shock, and overwhelmed with emotion, so the Satmar Chassid in the next row turns to this tattood and pierced young man and says, “Sweet Jew, if you promise me you will try and wear these Tefillin each and every day, I promise I will have a pair sent by FedEx to your home in Seattle Washington by the time you get back from Israel!” They then exchanged phone numbers and information, and the deal was done.
Now I ask you, is Klal Yisrael anything short of amazing and absolutely incredible? Look what our Kehillah alone has already accomplished! I almost felt like taking the next flight home, and calling this trip the greatest success I could have ever imagined! But things only continued to became more and more meaningful as the day went on.
I landed in Eretz Yisrael over two hours late, and had already missed two out of the three homes that the OU was planning to visit.
So I met them on the way to the Shaer home which is located in Talmon, a neighborhood of 280 families, which is surrounded on all sides by Arab Villages. We arrived there at 3:30, and were told by the Policemen, that the family was resting until 5:30. So the OU van decided to leave, but I chose to stay and wait it out.
So there I was, alone, in a far flung Yishuv that I have never heard of, drenched with sweat, with not a living person in sight, in any direction.
I begin to walk around looking for a Beis Midrash, and after about a minute, a woman walks out of the Shaer residence, and I sheepishly asked her, “By chance, do you speak English”? And she says, “Yes, I am from the States, but I live in Talmon for over 20 years. How can I help you?" I said, “Well, I just came from the airport, I haven’t eaten or drank anything, as I had a last minute flight, and they would not provide me with food on the plane, and I am feeling very disoriented…” She then invited me into her home, quickly served me a beautiful platter of fresh fruit; gave me a tour of the local shul and mikvah, acquainted me to the local shomrim and Chayallim, and proceeded to introduce me to many of the local families on the Shaer’s block as well. One after the other, families began to break down crying, as they heard that a guest had arrived from America to share in their pain.
But I watched as these incredible families, walked up and down the streets with bottles of water, delicious cake platters, freshly diced fruit, tuna and egg sandwiches, and everything else you can possibly imagine; offering the crowd that was beginning to form outside of the Shaer residence. Their outpouring of love was quite overwhelming to watch, and it is something that is so hard for me to properly express in words.
Signs were posted by a table at the entrance to the door, asking all visitors to write down what services they might be able to offer the family in the coming months, and when they would be available to render them. A plumber wrote that he has off on Wednesday’s and would be happy to help them should they ever need. A therapist wrote that any day after hours they could feel free to use her services. A young teenage girl from Beit Shemesh wrote that she has the summer off, and would be happy to entertain anyone in the Yishuv who was busy caring for the Shaer’s during this tragedy, and the list went on and on and on.
Politicians began to gather and many people could be seen waiting for the Shaer’s to reopen their doors. Fellow school friends of Gilad began to recount stories of his youthful personality, but after just a few minutes, Mr. and Mrs. Shaer asked that people please make way for the Kehillah who has sent someone all the way from America to visit, “we want to hear from him; his visit means the most to us right now; though we may be closer to many of you sitting in the room." I then received the most warm, gracious, gentle, and highly emotional embrace from Mr. Shaer, who was completely overcome with shock by our Shul’s gesture.
The room grew silent and we began to speak with one another; I then proceeded to present the letters from our shul, which threw the room into a complete hysteria, and Mrs. Bat Galim Shaer began to speak with me about her feelings of love for our Kehillah.
Although there were numerous signs posted, that no pictures be taken at the shiva house, Bat Galim encouraged her friends and relatives, to take pictures and share them with both her family and our Kehillah, so they would remember, and that we would be able to see how much this special visit meant to them.
Surprisingly, she then proceeded to personally address our wonderful shul on video as well, and asked her friends to share her personal message with our shul via email before Shabbos; so we could all appreciate the Shaer family’s tremendous appreciation, love and incredible sense of strength that they felt by our gesture.
I then traveled to Nof Ayalon to visit the Frankel family. I got to speak very personally with both Mr. and Mrs. Frankel, and they too were overwhelmed with our sense of connection and achrayus to Am Yisrael and its terrible tragedies.
Mrs. Frankel then said, “Rabbi, it is not only you who feel it for us, you don’t even know how deeply I personally feel a connection to your shul. The Torah that you teach in The White Shul, I know you don’t know, but I follow and listen to the shiurim on YUTorah, and I can’t tell you how special it is, that one of my personal Rabeim has come from abroad to share this difficult time with me."
Mrs. Frenkel then told me that when Ambassador Dan Shapiro, came to speak with her last week about the continued mission to rescue her son, he said, “for an American citizen, nothing will stop us." To which she responded, “It makes no difference if my son is American or Israeli. If all three are not being equally emphasized, then I want none of them back. Klal Yisrael is Klal Yisrael!”
Being more familiar with America and the English language, the Frenkel’s spent time reading the package of letters that were presented, and found many of them to be incredibly heartwarming.
Finally I visited the home the Yifrach’s in Elad. A complete mob scene, I was brought directly to meet with Mr. Yifrach who stood up in the overly crowded tent, and tightly hugged, kissed and cried on my shoulder. He asked that our Shul consider joining their family when they make their next Simcha, so we not only connect with this special family under these circumstances, and that we always remember that life is usually, supposed to be filled with, and revolve around “Simchat hachayim."
I was then brought to meet with Mrs. Yifrach who was inside the house, and she asked that I share her personal wish with our shul. On Erev Shabbos, at 19:00 p.m. Israel Time, there will be close to one million Jews around the world, participating in a רגע של חסד. Throughout Eretz Yisrael and various communities, people will be setting aside sums of money for tzeddakah, in the memory of the three precious kedoshim, the three pure and untainted souls. She begged that our Shul sincerely commit to join this meaningful campaign, and asked that when setting aside these monies we recite גדולה צדקה שמקרבת את הגאולה.
She begged, that her beloved brothers and sisters join with her as well going forward, to make this worldwide campaign of chessed, a most successful and life changing one, in memory of Naftali, Eyal and Gilad.
What more is possibly left to say other than מי כעמך ישראל on so many incredibly beautiful levels? מי כעמך ישראל, who feel such a strong bond and connection with one another. מי כעמך ישראל who stay committed and so incredibly strong at times of utter and complete devastation. מי כעמך ישראל who are willing to bat for one another at any cost, and are so overwhelmingly kind to those whom they have never, and perhaps will never meet! מי כעמך ישראל who have families the likes of the Frankel’s, Yifrach’s and Shaer’s; families who talk about their most beloved Father in heaven who is so deeply rooted in their respective hearts, minds and souls. מי כעמך ישראל who will pledge to join together to make our world a more meaningful and wholesome place to be.
I say a personal thank you to the most incredible Kehillah that I feel blessed to be a part of, for your abounding love and care for every single last member of Klal Yisrael. Our Rabbi, Rabbi Eytan Feiner has taught us all in so many different ways, to appreciate and value the contributions of each and every member of our own tzibbur and of Klal Yisrael in general.